At least once a year Iowa men’s tennis assistant coach Steve Nash finds himself in a foreign country, trying to order off strange menus at restaurants and remembering to stay on the left side of the road.
It’s all in the hope of finding his next prized recruit.
With 12 players on the men’s tennis team, four others from Canada, Russia, Germany, and the Netherlands.
Some might wonder how a third of Iowa’s tennis team could come from such distances. But the Hawkeyes have a history of recruiting successfully overseas, using a system head coach Steve Houghton has perfected in 29 years.His expanded view creates a larger talent pool.
Word of mouth helps. For years, the team had a string of Swedes, a run that ended last year with Christian Bierich.
“We’ve had enough international kids … that a lot of the time I’ll just ask someone who is from somewhere near them,” Houghton said.
Sophomore Marc Bruche, of Hoelsbrunn, Germany, followed a similar path to Iowa.
After finishing up a tour of duty in the German military, Bruche, a top-ranked player during his high school days, was spurred by a friend to pick up his racket and head for Baylor University in Waco, Texas. On a recommendation from that coach, he arrived in Iowa City this year.
“What really was a big thing for me was what I heard about coach [Steve] Houghton,” Bruche said. “He has a very good reputation.”
That statement of good character can also help persuade parents to send their 18-year-old son halfway across the world.
“We just try to be as honest as possible with these kids,” Nash said.
While in Europe, Nash’s job is to see prospects play and make the initial face-to-face contact with the potential future Hawkeyes.
With a budget allowing for two trips a year, a coach will visit four to five players in days, venturing quickly from one country to another.
While overseas, Nash will watch prospects play, often in a tournament or exhibition setting before sitting down with the player and his family to discuss what the Hawkeyes have to offer.
What everything comes down to is making the recruit realize what Houghton calls the “Iowa way” of doing things.
“At Iowa, I believe in what we do. We’re not going to take a scholarship away for lack of talent once you are on campus,” Houghton said.
Meanwhile, though, some have questioned whether scholarships from state-sponsored universities should go to foreign-born students. Many schools in the talent-rich South often spurn home-grown athletes in favor of those overseas.
Houghton, though, noted the benefits of having a diverse squad and combated the argument by pointing to the nation’s immigrant foundation.
This commitment to the student-athlete is something the coach described as a general characteristic of the Big Ten, which sometimes puts the conference on an uneven playing field — but for good reason.
As much a Houghton tries to stay humble when referring to himself as being a catalyst for many foreign athletes who want to play tennis at Iowa, it’s apparent he prefers to do things a particular way. He emphasizes values and morals in the recruiting process.