IOWA CITY — With the kind of basketball season he has had, you couldn’t blame Ahmad Wagner at all if he considered this.
After starting 18 games last season as a sophomore on the Iowa basketball team, Wagner has become something of a forgotten man this season. His minutes have dropped; his productivity has dropped. The prospects of that changing in the final seven games of this season, or even next year in his senior season, don’t look great.
You couldn’t fault him if he considered detouring his career path into football, a sport he excelled in as a senior at Wayne High School in Huber Heights, Ohio.
Wagner just laughed at that notion when asked about it earlier this week. But he didn’t really come out and say he’d never consider it.
"I’m just focusing on this year and this basketball season," the affable junior forward said. "I haven’t really thought about that. I’m just focused on what I can do for the Iowa basketball team."
Nevertheless, there are plenty of people out there who would like to see him try it. Wagner has the endorsement of Iowa football center James Daniels, a fellow Ohioan who is jumping into the NFL draft this spring. Wagner also bantered with Iowa football recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell via Twitter last summer.
"What about your football career?" Bell wrote on July 18. "Time is ticking."
Wisconsin point guard D’Mitrik Trice, who talked Wagner into putting on the pads for that one year at Wayne, said he really believes his buddy’s brightest future is in football.
"I try to influence him now," Trice said at the Big Ten’s basketball media day in October. "If he were to stop playing basketball, I think he definitely would have a chance to do something special in the NFL or even at the end of his college career.
"I don’t know if he’s joking about it or whatever, but he said he would most likely try," Trice added. "I think that would be a great thing for him with his height and his strength."
Wagner is 6-foot-7, 235 pounds, and runs extremely well. Not surprisingly, he found immediate success in high school as an oversized wide receiver.
"I had no reason to play …," Wagner said. "But (Trice) just kind of talked me into it. He said ‘I’m the quarterback. You can count on getting the ball.’ And I was like ‘You know what, why not?’ I thought I’d just go out there with no pressure. Just go out there and have fun, so that’s what I did."
He had a lot of fun. He caught 40 passes for 639 yards and 10 touchdowns in the regular season and was named first-team all-state. In a loss to Lakewood St. Edward in the state championship game, he caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Trice and returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown.
That caught the eye of football recruiters. Kentucky offered him a scholarship and Ohio State at least inquired about his plans, telling him they would be interested if he decided to forego basketball.
But Wagner already was sold on the idea of playing basketball for the Hawkeyes, and he stuck by that commitment.
He played about 10 minutes a game as a freshman before becoming a regular last season. He’s down to 9.6 minutes a night this season (12th on the team) and lately it has been a lot less than that.
He played only one minute in one game, only two minutes in another. He played three minutes Tuesday in a victory over Minnesota. He is averaging 1.8 points and 1.8 rebounds per game.
Despite the fact that the Hawkeyes are in danger of missing out on any sort of postseason berth, he insists that he remains fully committed to basketball.
But he has to know that the NFL is full of players, mostly tight ends, who saw much more action in basketball than in football during their college careers. Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez took that route. So did Jimmy Graham, Antonio Gates, Bears rookie Adam Shaheen and others.
Wagner has prototypical tight end size but said he’s never played that position.
"I only played for one year and that was as a wide receiver," he said. "So, that’s all I know how to do."
Asked about Trice’s prediction that he isn’t finished with football, Wagner just laughed again.
"Meech is a different guy," he said. "Like I said, I’m just focused on this year."