Jacobson reflects on Sweet 16, looks forward in 2020

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Courtesy Photo/UNI Athletics

JACOB POTTER, Sports Editor

The 2019-20 UNI men’s basketball season has already seen the Panthers take down a top 25 team in Colorado, preceded by traveling to Cancun, Mexico in November and experiencing Italy last summer.  Aside from taking in historic sites like the Colosseum, the Panthers have crossed paths with basketball legends such as the NBA Hall of Fame center Bill Walton, who was calling the UNI-Colorado game.

“That was awesome,” Jacobson said about talking to the two-time NBA champion for over 30 minutes.  “I talked to him about the Celtics teams that he played on being a big fan of those teams and then watching those guys play.  Then talked a little music with him. Talked to him about John Fogharty concerts. We had a lot of fun talking about those things.”

Prior to meeting NBA legends and traveling the world this season, the 2009-10 Sweet 16 team was inducted into the UNI Athletics Hall of Fame in September.

Courtesy Photo/UNI Athletics

“Just tremendously proud and to to be able to spend a weekend together again was just an awesome, awesome time,” Jacobson said.  “Mostly just tremendously proud of not only what they accomplished together during that time that earned their way into the Hall of Fame, but who they are and more importantly what they’re doing now.  

“The part that you want to have an impact on is after they’re done playing.  To see those guys 10 years later, see how well they’re doing and see their families, that part of it is awesome.”

Courtesy Photo/UNI Athletics

When thinking back to the fondest memories from the Sweet 16 team, Jacobson paused for nearly half a minute when reflecting on the multitude of special moments.

“The relationships, how close the guys were and a part of those relationships being that they would go at it in practice,” Jacobson noted.  “It’s kind of like your brother. You go at it with your brothers but if somebody else down the street picks on your brother you’re the first one to stand up for them.

“It was kind of like that with that team at practice.  They were going at it and there were some dynamics that transferred as soon as we got to the game floor.  There wasn’t anybody that was going to mess with anybody on our team. That was really special.”

Jacobson still preaches that high level of competition in practice with the 2019-20 Panthers in the grind to get better every day.

“Let’s get up and work hard,” Jacobson said.  “It doesn’t matter what our record is. Last year we were within one play or so of going to the NCAA Tournament and our record wasn’t great in December.  Whether it’s last year or right now when we’ve got a terrific record, the message is the same. Let’s keep getting better.”

That work ethic comes from Jacobson’s playing days as it was passed on to him from his college coach Rich Glas at the University of North Dakota.  

“I remember Coach Glas would tell us the same thing every day to always get better,” Jacobson said.  “What I tell our guys a lot is to get up and work hard.”

UNI’s success can be traced back to the hard work over the course of a long season that has led to four NCAA Tournament appearances under Jacobson.  Driven by the program’s success, Jacobson strives to compete at the highest levels of college basketball.

“After 2010 we’ve talked about that there’s three games we haven’t played in: the Elite Eight game, the Final Four and the National Championship,” Jacobson said.  “Let’s get a group put together and let’s do the things we do, which is everyday let’s work hard.  

Ten years later as a new decade unfolds in 2020, Jacobson said that he believes the current Panthers have what it takes to win the Missouri Valley Conference and compete in the NCAA Tournament after a 12-2 start.

“We’ve got a good team; experience, depth and talent, it’s got that stuff, but those things are only going to get you so far,” Jacobson said.  “The other piece that these guys have shown is that they will get up and work hard.  

Courtesy Photo/UNI Athletics

“The third piece that you’ve got to have if you’re going to be in contention for a championship, which I talked about it with the 2010 team, you gotta be willing to scrap it out in practice and stand up for each other on gameday.  Our practices are competitive. They’re not quite like they were in 2010, but they’re getting there.”