By John Bohnenkamp
Iowa’s men’s basketball team had just finished breakfast on Saturday morning when coach Fran McCaffery delivered the somber news.
The father of forward Jack Nunge had died.
“I think they were stunned. They were incredibly sad,” McCaffery said on Monday. “Your heart breaks for him, and his family.”
Dr. Mark Nunge was an emergency medicine physician in Newburgh, Ind. He was 53 years old.
McCaffery said Nunge had spoken to his father on Friday night. Nunge left for home on Saturday and won’t be with the Hawkeyes for Wednesday’s season opener against North Carolina Central on Wednesday.
Nunge is going to be a key part of the Hawkeyes’ rotation this season after coming off a knee injury last November that ended last season for him.
“I was absolutely devastated for him,” senior guard Jordan Bohannon said. “What he’s been through these last 2-3 years, it’s unimaginable to even talk about it. I just don’t even have words to say.”
“We were all kind of shocked with the news,” sophomore guard CJ Fredrick said. “I was incredibly sad for him and his family. Dr. Nunge was a great guy.
“Jack’s an incredible teammate and an incredible friend of mine. We know he’s hurting.”
“It was obviously heartbreaking, devastating,” center Luka Garza said. “It was horrible news.”
McCaffery said he spoke with Nunge on Saturday.
“As you can imagine, he was practically inconsolable on the telephone,” McCaffery said.
“I texted with him a little bit the other day,” Bohannon said. “He’s just devastated.”
McCaffery said Nunge would be away from the team indefinitely.
“He’s with his family now, where he should be,” McCaffery said. “We’ll give him as much time as he needs.”
“He needs all the time he can have with his family,” Bohannon said.
GAME ON: Wednesday’s game is still on schedule. North Carolina Central, which paused workouts last week because of a positive COVID-19 test, was traveling to Iowa City on Monday.
McCaffery said the team had no positive tests before leaving.
“We’ll test them again when they get here, and then we’ll see what happens,” McCaffery said.
The opening weekend is a three-team event. North Carolina Central will play Southern on Thursday, and then Iowa will play Southern on Friday.
All three teams will be tested for COVID-19 throughout the week.
COVID-19 CONCERNS: Bohannon was asked that, given the rise in COVID-19 cases nationally, whether it was a good idea to be starting the college basketball season, especially since some schools are doing more testing than others.
“Do you want my honest answer or do you want me to lie?” Bohannon joked.
His honest answer?
“I think it’s a little premature to start the season when it is,” Bohannon said. “I think the Big Ten and the University of Iowa have done everything possible for this to run smoothly. I wish every university did the daily testing that we do. It really changes the mindset around the contact tracing, everything that goes around the coronavirus, to be able to run a full season.
“I wish everyone had the same protocols, but it’s kind of not the world we’re living in right now.”
McCaffery said he didn’t mind the season starting when it did, but wouldn’t have minded seeing more time built into the schedule to reschedule games if necessary.
“We’re in daily testing. It’s not a cure,” McCaffery said. “But it gives us a sense of where our guys are right now in terms of health. They’ve been diligent in how they live their lives, and have been smart about it.
“We’ll deal with cancellations as they come. And if they don’t, we’ll play the game.”
Photo: Iowa’s Jack Nunge will be away from the team indefinitely after the death of his father. (Stephen Mally/hawkeyesports.com)