IOWA CITY, Iowa - It’s a mentality that Joe Toussaint has carried with him throughout his basketball career, and it came from the on-court environment he played in during his high school career in New York City.
“It’s kill or be killed,” the Iowa junior point guard said at Monday’s media day. “You’d rather be the hunter. You’ve got to go hunt.”
Toussaint has brought that kind of intensity to the Hawkeyes, but it’s just been a matter of harnessing that energy.
It’s what coach Fran McCaffery appreciates.
“I don't think his approach changed at all,” McCaffery said. “He is who he is. I mean, he's a killer. That's what you want. He goes after people defensively. He attacks the rim. He's constantly trying to beat whoever lines up in front of him. And sometimes as a point guard, you want them to, all right, back it off a little bit. But one of the reasons we recruited him was because of who he is.
“He's a warrior, that guy. And you never want to take that away from him.”
Toussaint’s role has alternated throughout his career, from a young freshman learning the college game to being put in the starting spot for the final 20 games of the 2019-20 season, to being a key piece off the bench last season.
There is a rockiness that can go with that, but Toussaint said that has made him a better player.
“I made so many mistakes my freshman year,” said Toussaint, who had 62 turnovers as a freshman but 45 last season. “My sophomore year was a learning experience too, watching from the bench. Now I feel like this is my time. I can show what I can do now.”
Toussaint had a 1.45 assist-to-turnover ratio as a freshman, 1.7 last season.
That, sixth-year senior guard Jordan Bohannon said, is the usual evolution for a point guard.
“I’ve been telling him that,” said Bohannon, Iowa’s all-time leader in assists who will move to the off-guard spot this season. “I was like, ‘It’s going to take time.’ My reading ability as a point guard took a while. Now, as a senior, you see my assist-to-turnover ratio increase for the better. That’s the same thing I see happening for Joe T.”
“I felt like my patience has gotten really, really, really better since I’ve been here,” Toussaint said. “I watch film on myself every day. Just the way I’m picking my spots, getting to where I need to go, using my speed when I need to use it, slowing down, changing speeds, coming off screens, reading the right plays — I just felt like everything has slowed down. I feel like I’m playing the game with my mind, instead of my physical attributes.”
Toussaint is constantly attacking a defense, something his teammates have learned to adjust to when he has the ball.
“It pushes the team,” center Josh Ogundele said. “Once he’s running, everyone’s running.”
“I’ve always enjoyed playing with a point guard like him,” Bohannon said. “He’s able to get into the paint, and find open guys. He’s very good at that. He’s starting to have his game settle down even more, where he’s able to make reads that he wasn’t able to make freshman or sophomore year.”
“He plays so hard,” McCaffery said, “he's going to command the respect of those around him.”
It’s Toussaint’s offense now.
“I’ve been waiting my turn for two years,” he said. “It’s a chance for me to play my game, prove myself.”