MBB: Iowa Gets Down To Business In Mexico

By Scott Dochterman, Reporter

Iowa's Eric May (25) and Gabriel Olaseni (0) try to block a shot by Onzie Branch of Gardner-Webb during the first half at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on November 17, 2012. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

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By Grant Burkhardt

CANCUN, Mexico -- Zach McCabe's family came to Mexico to help him celebrate his 21st birthday. Eric May's parents, extended family, grandmother, girlfriend and her family also arrived in Cancun.

Mike Gesell's parents are at the Moon Palace Resort, as is Devyn Marble's mother. It's almost a family reunion for the Iowa men's basketball team as it takes part in the Cancun Challenge.

But it's no party. There are no side trips scheduled. Lights out is at 11:30 p.m. The Mayan ruins will have to wait past Wednesday night -- if ever -- before it receives black-and-gold basketball visitors.

"This is a business trip," Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. "After we play, on Thursday, we'll be able to do some things potentially, but I'm not sure what that's going to be yet. Between now and the time we play, it's business."

Iowa (4-0) had a scare Saturday night against Gardner-Webb, trailing by 23 points before coming back to win by nine. It's the largest comeback by the program since at least 1996, and the school continues to research its archives to see where it ranks.

"That was a good wake-up call for our team," May said.

The team got another one at 3 a.m. Sunday for its flight to Mexico. McCaffery has preached hydration since his arrival, but he also found another distraction at an all-inclusive resort.

"You go to a restaurant and you just eat and you just get up and leave," McCaffery said. "There's no prices, so you can overeat. You can order room service. So you want them to eat, because you want them to replace the calories they've lost, but we also don't want them to overeat."

Iowa's experience at the Paradise Jam Classic two years ago helped shape the team's business-first mantra in Mexico. Tthe team lost two of three games and some of the players took the trip less seriously than expected.

"As a freshman we all thought it was a vacation and time to get away or whatever," McCabe said. "Unfortunately we found out that's not how it is."

"I just think we were a new group, a young team," Marble said. "I'm not saying we didn't play to the best of our ability, but at the time we didn't really know too much else. I think this is going to be a much better trip basketball-wise and the resort is nice. But I think we're just ready to play now."

While the players have met with their families and enjoyed some carefree moments at the resort, they're dialed in on basketball. Iowa's first opponent, Western Kentucky, is 2-1 and its only loss was in overtime. The Hilltoppers advanced to the NCAA tournament last year. Iowa will play either DePaul or Wichita State on Wednesday. Three years ago the Shockers beat Iowa by 17 at the CBE Classic in Kansas City.

"For the most part, I've been to my room to the court to the film room since I've been down here and the same with all of us," May said. "We haven't been down here jumping around on the beach. It's business until it's over."

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