‘Sasquatch’ steals the spotlight
OKLAHOMA CITY – One of the biggest players in college basketball grew up in Bellevue, Iowa, which lies along the Mississippi River and boasts a population of about 2,500.
“It’s a small town,” Northern Iowa’s Jordan Eglseder said, “so pretty much everyone knows who I am.”
That Eglseder stands 7-feet tall and weighs 290 pounds probably has something to do with that, too.
Texas’ Dexter Pittman is 10 pounds heavier and Florida State’s Solomon Alabi is an inch taller. But you won’t find many Division I centers who combine size and stature quite like Eglseder.
Panthers fans have known that all season. Thursday, the rest of the world will, too.
After three injury-plagued seasons, Eglseder – or “Sasquatch,” as his teammates call him – says he’ll be 100 percent healthy when ninth-seeded Northern Iowa faces eighth-seeded UNLV in a Midwest Regional game at the Ford Center. That could be a scary prospect for the Runnin’ Rebels, who can’t help but be awestruck by Eglseder’s size.
“Man, he’s big – real big,” UNLV forward Matt Shaw said. “There aren’t any players like that in the Mountain West.”
Watch Thursday’s game and you won’t be able to miss Eglseder. At times, he looks like Andre the Giant in a battle royal against midgets. Towering over the 6-5 and 6-6 forwards in the Missouri Valley Conference, Eglseder averaged a team-high 12.3 points and 7.0 rebounds in leading the Panthers to a second consecutive league title.
The competition, though, will elevate Thursday against UNLV. Eglseder wants to make sure what’s being billed as his biggest college game isn’t his last.
Northern Iowa has lost its past four NCAA tournament games, including a five-point setback in the first round last season against Purdue.
“We want to prove that we belong,” said Eglseder, one of four Northern Iowa seniors. “We want to go as far as we can.”
How far the Panthers advance largely will depend on Eglseder, who hardly fits the “big stiff” tag that so often is bestowed on 7-footers huge on heart and low on athleticism.
Eglseder has a nice outside shooting touch and a deadly hook shot that he can make with both hands. He runs the court decent for his size and shoots 78.3 percent from the foul stripe. With a bench press of 315 pounds, there aren’t many people capable of pushing Eglseder around.
“That’s the way I like to think,” he said. “I like to go into games knowing that whoever is guarding me, I can go against him and score and kick them out of the paint and block shots.
“I try to think that there’s not anyone better.”
Eglseder scored in double figures in 22 of the 29 games he played in this season, an admirable feat considering he rarely plays more than 25 minutes per contest. Eglseder was suspended for three games for allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol. It was a regrettable moment for Eglseder, but hardly one that tarnished what otherwise has been a legacy of hard work and persistence for a player who committed to Northern Iowa nearly eight years ago.
Eglseder played a grand total of 30 seconds during his freshman year at Bellevue’s Marquette High School, but the following summer, then-UNI coach Greg McDermott offered him a scholarship after seeing him at a “big man” camp for high schoolers at Northern Iowa.
Eglseder had grown 8 inches during the previous year – going from 6-0 to 6-8 as a ninth-grader – and McDermott sensed that he may get even bigger. Eglseder’s father, Jerry, a meat-cutter, stands 6-6, and his mother, Ann Jacobs, is 5-9. His grandmother is 6-1.
“The worst part is walking through doors,” Eglseder said of his height. “I live in a house [near campus] in Cedar Falls, and there are still times when I bang my forehead because I wasn’t paying attention and forgot to duck.”
That’s not to say the good doesn’t outweigh the bad when it comes to Eglseder’s size. As his college days wind down, Eglseder is hoping to continue his basketball career at a higher level. The NBA would be great, he said, but Eglseder also is willing to play overseas if that is his best option.
Before that, though, he’d like to face some of the top centers in college basketball, just to see how he matches up. Although a showdown with Pittman, Alabi, DeMarcus Cousins or Greg Monroe seems unlikely, the possibility of a faceoff with Kansas’ Cole Aldrich is staring Eglseder in the face.
If the Panthers beat UNLV, they’ll face Aldrich and the No. 1 Jayhawks in the second round – assuming, of course, that Kansas takes care of business Thursday against Lehigh.
“He’s 7-0 and 280 pounds?” said Aldrich, who hasn’t seen Eglseder play. “That sounds like a big boy. It’d be a good matchup.”
“He’s the best big man in the country,” he said. “I don’t know how I’d do against him – but I’d love to try.”
Then he smiled.
“I can’t worry about that yet, though,” Eglseder said. “We’ve got to beat UNLV first.”