by Matthew Brennan, NBA D-League.com
Iowa Energy guard Stefhon Hannah played a key role in Iowa's 123-106 victory over Rio Grande Valley in Game One of the 2011 NBA D-League Finals on Sunday. The 6-1 guard had a huge game in his Finals debut, scoring 20 points while adding ten assists and nine rebounds. Hannah also connected on 4-7 attempts from three-point range. While it may appear that Hannah has established himself as a star on the NBA D-League level, he's played through a season with plenty of ups and downs. Hannah, a former Big 12 Newcomer of the Year at Missouri, made the initial Energy roster after attending one of the team's open tryouts. He then played sparingly during most of the season and and was even waived at one point, but the departures of various other players from the team have led to Hannah joining the starting lineup. He's now averaging 14.8 points over Iowa's six playoff games, including 20.0 points over the last three.
"First of all, I have to thank God," said Hannah about his 2010-11 campaign. "I had a tough road, I didn't have an agent so I had to do things on my own. I went to the open tryout and they called me in and I made the team, but I got let go. But by the grace of God they called me back and here I am."
Hannah spent a lot of the season waiting his turn behind current NBA roster players like Othyus Jeffers and Marqus Blakely. While players like Hannah and center Scott VanderMeer may have been seen by observers as deep reserves, members of the Energy knew better that certain members of the roster had the talent to success in the NBA D-League once they got the chance.
"Our coach has a hard job," said Hannah about Nick Nurse, who juggled Iowa's lineup this season on the way to a 37-13 record. "The whole season, our bench players at the beginning of the season could have been starters, but they were playing behind some very talented players. Our practices were very intense, we all made each other better. We stuck together and the guys who were starting over us that are gone now told us to keep our heads up. We knew we were supposed to be playing, but it just wasn't our time. Now it's our time. I'm glad that I'm a part of this and hope we can win a championship."
On Sunday night, Hannah and the Energy fell behind to Rio Grande Valley early on, but they rallied in the second quarter before blowing the game open with a dominant third quarter. While a barrage of threes by Hannah and teammate Mose Ehambe were key, Hannah credits some added defensive intensity as helping to turn the tide.
"They started out hot and they had the crowd into it early on," said Hannah. "But we came together, tightened up our defense, got a few stops, and that changed the game. We weren't helping on defense which is part of our defensive principles, and coach got on us and told us to really get focused. Then we started making shots too so that put a lot of pressure on them. We don't get rattled, we stay focused on our goal. Basketball is a game of runs and they made their run but then we made ours."
Now Hannah and the Energy will head back to Iowa needing one more win to take home the 2010-11 NBA D-League title. He's excited about the chance to win the trophy in front of the fans who have supported the rotating cast of players that have been part of the Energy's Eastern Conference title and league best record. Wednesday's Game Two will feature a White Out at Wells Fargo Arena, with all Iowa fans receiving white t-shirts to support their team.
"The whole season our fans have been great," said Hannah. "But our fans can be even better on Wednesday. This season has been a great season, and our fans have been behind us the whole time no matter who we have out there on the floor. On Wednesday I think they are going to support us even more. White Out baby!"