Brian Wolf still remembers that free throw he missed against United Township at Wharton Field House during his senior year.
It would have given him 40 points. Instead he had to settle for 39 as his career high in a year that was plenty memorable.
“I kind of look back at that as a magical, Cinderella year,” said Wolf, who helped lead Alleman to a second-place Class A finish in 1989 back when there were only two classes in Illinois. “No one really expected much out of us. We had a group of guys that essentially grew up together.
“It was a fun year. I think we turned some heads, and we came close to winning the whole thing.”
Wolf’s coach at Alleman was the late Bob DeDoncker who became coach his junior year, and it worked out well.
”What was great about him was he was very positive,” Wolf said. “He was really enthusiastic. We scrimmaged him all the time, he and Art Maffie, the assistant coach. We would play two-on-two with those guys.”
Wolf may have missed that free throw that cost him his 40th point, but he has not missed out on many shots since – especially in his career. If his name looks familiar to Iowa fans, there’s a good reason.
Since 2003, he’s been working with Iowa athletics as the team doctor of various sports.
Currently, he’s really more than that, as Director of Sports Medicine for the University of Iowa. Dr. Wolf oversees all the sports medicine service that is provided for the athletic department, from athletic trainers to doctors (primary care and orthopedic). He’s also the team doctor for football, baseball and women’s basketball. He had been team doctor for men’s basketball for 14 years before coming to the realization that doing that along with football was too much of a time commitment.
So he’s the doctor on the sidelines during football games and travels with the team to all games — including bowl games.
“So if there’s an orthopedic surgery issue or something like that, certainly on my team, I am going to be the one that does it unless I have a specialist partner that may have more expertise," Wolf said. “But very common orthopedic sports medicine things that we run into in sports medicine, I would be the one that does the procedures on those kids.”
He says the Iowa coaches have all been great to work with.
“We have fantastic coaches here,” he said. “(Iowa football coach Kirk) Ferentz is unbelievable. He’s so easy to work with. I would say the same about all of them. (Fran) McCaffery has always been great to work with… Lisa Bluder is great to work with. They’re really good people. The athletic department at Iowa, they really do a good job of having good people.”
Wolf came to Iowa City 20 years ago, starting his internship and residency training in orthopedics and finishing that in 2002. From there he did an orthopedic sports medicine fellowship in New York City for one year before being recruited to return to Iowa as a faculty member in orthopedics. He has been on the faculty since 2003.
Wolf graduated undergrad and med school from Loyola University in Chicago, which he attended on a basketball scholarship.
Wolf, an excellent student, entered Loyola majoring in pre-med. Basketball practices and games kept him from taking most pre-med classes during the school year, so he went to summer school every year.
“I kind of hung out with my team physician during the summers,” Wolf said. “Basically, I never came home for four years, and I would take my pre-med classes.”
Despite being a great shooter who showed flashes with some double-figure games as a freshman, Wolf quickly realized his future did not include the professional ranks. All of that only reinforced his original plan.
Becoming an orthopedic surgeon actually came naturally, he said.
“A lot of medical school is kind of who you fit with,” Wolf said. “Certainly there was a good fit with orthopedics and sports medicine. A lot of orthopedic surgeons are former athletes. You tend to migrate that way. And those are the people I fit with.”
From there he chose sports medicine/orthopedics as his sub specialty. “I enjoyed the procedures that that involved, but it also gave me the opportunity to stay involved with teams," he said. “You are around the players, coaches and locker rooms and things like that—which was very comfortable and natural with me.”
Being a former Division I athlete has worked to his advantage dealing with athletes, too, he said. “Absolutely, I think you have a better understanding of what they are going through, the mindset that the typical collegiate athlete has, or a high school athlete for that matter.
“You understand what their aspirations are, what the demands are,” he said. “You understand everything that they are going through. And kind of be able to relate to them in terms of getting back to what they want to do. The prognosis, and what it all means to the big picture of their athletic career.”
He’s seen some trainees come in that simply don’t have that background, and so lack that connection.
“You think it’s pretty simple,” he said. “But some people just don’t know … the proper way of being in the locker room, how you behave. Having been in multiple locker rooms, if you have been an athlete, you kind of understand the process.”
For example, it’s not a place to goof-off or be loud, he said.
For Wolf the Iowa position represents coming full circle. His dad, Bob Wolf, got his MBA from Iowa when Brian was younger.
Now a father of three (his two high school boys play baseball and tennis, his younger daughter is into basketball), Brian is the one grooming Hawkeye fans.
“It’s kind of funny,” he said. “I grew up watching Iowa games with my dad. My dad had season tickets, so I always got to go to the football games.
“Now, I am kind of part of the team, helping out. It’s pretty cool.”