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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Iowa's latest recruit brings baggage and promise

Saturday, May 7, 2011

DES MOINES, Iowa ? Iowa recruit Anthony Hubbard is an explosive scorer, an athletic defender and by most accounts fits perfectly into coach Fran McCaffery's vision for the Hawkeyes.

Hubbard also just turned 26 and he's spent more time in prison than he has playing organized basketball.

Hubbard pleaded guilty to a 2003 robbery and was incarcerated in his home state of Virginia for three years and 11 months. When he left jail in 2007, he didn't have a high school diploma or any aspirations of going to college, let alone playing for one.

Four years later, Hubbard is set to arrive in Iowa City as one of the nation's most highly recruited junior-college players and perhaps the final piece that pushes the Hawkeyes back into Big Ten contention.

For all of his promise on the court, Hubbard also will bring some serious baggage.

"He made a mistake. He knows he made a mistake, and he's done everything to correct that mistake," said Dave Miller, who coached Hubbard at Frederick Community College (Md.). "He understands that you don't have 27 times to do this. This is it. This is, for him, his last go-round."

Both McCaffery and Miller insist Hubbard has matured since leaving prison, staying clear of trouble while remaining determined to make the most of the opportunity afforded to him through basketball.

Hubbard was, by his own admission, a poor student as a kid whose grades kept him from playing prep ball. He was a high school dropout when a decision to break into a house changed his life.

Hubbard quickly surrendered, and the years he could have used to earn a degree were spent locked up.

"Almost immediately after I turned myself in, I knew that it wasn't a good situation and that something was going to come from it," Hubbard said. "A couple of years down the road it really started to sink in."

Like many with a rap sheet and a limited education, it wasn't easy for Hubbard to make a life once he got out of jail. He moved in with his mother in Woodbridge, Va., got his diploma online and languished through a series of odd jobs while playing hoops on the side.

A 6-foot-5 wing player, Hubbard flashed enough talent for a local coach to suggest he try junior college, a path that hadn't seemed possible during his time behind bars.

"I didn't necessarily feel like I was going to play basketball for a Division I school, but I told myself that I wouldn't turn back to that place," Hubbard said.

He spent one year at Odessa College in Texas working on his academics and adjusting to organized ball before transferring to Frederick to be closer to his hometown.

Last season, he blossomed. He was an NJCAA Division I All-America second-team pick, averaging 20.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game while leading the Cougars to a 26-5 record.

Those kind of numbers, along with what Miller said was a 3.2 GPA through three semesters, put him on the radar of Division I coaches across the country.

"His progression at Frederick has been tremendous. He's gone from being an up-and-down-the-court player to understanding the finer points of the game," Miller said. "He's a very talented offensive player — and I didn't help him with any of that — but he's a very good passer. He's learned how to become a much better defender."

Adding Hubbard looks like a no-brainer for the Hawkeyes, who beat out the likes of Nebraska and Penn State for his letter of intent.

But McCaffery said he had to think long and hard before pursuing Hubbard, given the player's past and the intense scrutiny he will face playing in the Big Ten. McCaffery dismissed speculation that adding Hubbard was a desperation move for a program with four straight losing seasons.

McCaffery said he had the blessing of athletic director Gary Barta to recruit Hubbard, and he's convinced Hubbard will be an asset to the program.

Given his age, skills and the fact that the Hawkeyes are 21-42 over the last two seasons, Hubbard is expected to play an immediate and major role at Iowa in McCaffery's second season.

"I wanted him to tell me what happened, what's he's been through, his failures as a young person," McCaffery said. "We believe in this kid 100 percent or else we wouldn't have gone forward. We feel really good about him and his journey and how thankful he is for this opportunity."

The Hawkeyes have offered Hubbard a fresh start. In turn, Hubbard hopes to lead the Hawkeyes on their long and trying journey out of the Big Ten basement.

"With every bad situation, some good comes out of it. Whether it be someone else learning from my mistakes or me learning from my mistakes," Hubbard said. "I told myself that I wasn't going to be a statistic."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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