Jess Settles announces the success of a painstaking approach

No one has worked harder than Jess Settles on a basketball court.

“I don’t know if anybody’s ever topped him,” said Tom Davis, who coached Settles in Iowa. “He was so selfless. He would work hard for all the right reasons. He wasn’t doing this for glory. He was doing it to make play to help his team.

Humility and hard work remain a trait today, even though a sore back extinguished his basketball dreams. And Settles, 47, still excels at the sport.

When he’s not helping out on the family farm near Winfield, Settles works as a television basketball analyst. He has over 30 matches on his schedule, most of them for the Big Ten Network. He is also working on a handful of Big East and Mountain West games for FS1.

“My heart belongs to the Big Ten,” Settles said. “But in any business, you go out and harvest as much as you can.”

He’s learned to channel his enthusiasm over time, and he’s become very good at hard work that feels like a kind of homecoming.

“I love being in the arenas,” Settles said. “I love the stories of the kids, the coaches, the lore, all those things. At the same time, I try to point out the things that the fans might not see or recognize. And I think we’re improves with experience.

Davis is still a Settles fan every time he logs on.

“It’s fun to hear him talk about the game as an announcer,” Davis said. “It’s a reminder of how hard he worked to get there.”

Settles made the most of his athletic ability on the floor, making him one of the nation’s top prospects at Winfield-Mt. Union High School. He signed with Iowa and stormed the Big Ten. Fate played a role in this.

The plan was to have Settles return to Chris Street in 1993-94. But that all changed when Street died in a car crash in January 1993.

“The coach called Chris Kingsbury and me a few weeks before the season and said, ‘You’re going to have to play long minutes, we have to rely on you,'” Settles said. “I was a bit overwhelmed by that. So to have a successful year, with everything ahead of me, was everything I ever dreamed of.

Settles was named the league’s freshman in 1994 after averaging 15.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and shooting 57.4 percent from the field.

One day this season practice was over and I was visiting Davis in the Carver-Hawkeye Arena tunnel. At the other end of the floor, Settles was working on a fake pump and power move. Again and again.

“Just watch it over there,” Davis said. “That’s why he has a chance to be good.” Settles has played most of this season with a painful case of shin splints, which has scarred him.

“I know this can be over at any time,” Settles said. “If that happens, I don’t mean that I wasn’t playing very hard at the time.”

These turned out to be spellbinding prophetic words. By the time Settles was a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 1996, his back was a hot mess. He entered the NBA Draft and attended pre-draft camp in Chicago, but his back limited what he could do.

“It was really a brutal time,” Jess recalls.

He returned to Iowa, but only played three games in 1996-97, none in 1997-98, and 28 in 1998-99. He finished with 1,611 points, 747 rebounds and a world of what could have been.

“Back then, you were always worried about blowing your knee and ruining your career on a dunk, or getting undermined,” Settles recalled. “I never imagined it would be a slow death with a miserable back.”

Working as a television analyst has proven to be the perfect tonic for Settles, a way to stay in a game he’s been passionate about since he was young.

“I love being part of the game to some degree,” Settles said. “It kinda keeps me around the gym. I love promoting the Big Ten, promoting the kids, trying to stay positive about the coaches.

It’s really no surprise that Settles entered the world of journalism. He loved chasing the written word at the time. He wrote a weekly column, titled “Above the Rim”, for his hometown newspaper in Winfield.

“I’ve loved sports media since I was young,” he said. “And I always thought that would be part of my future if it ever worked out.”

Preparing for the game is no longer pumping out fakes and power moves. It’s cinematic work, research and delivery. Settles draws on his experience as a player, as well as his two seasons as head coach of the Iowa Wesleyan.

“Just to get into a coach’s mind,” Jess said. “It’s different from a player. Especially those last four to five minutes to think, ‘OK, what would I do here? And as a coach for a few years, you mess up enough things and you learn and understand what everyone is thinking.

Regulations also rely on preparation. To prepare for last week’s Penn State-Indiana game, Settles spent 10 hours breaking down the tape and reading the teams.

“You probably only use 20% of what you study because things change and fly so fast,” he said. “When you have time, you try to really present a quality product.”

Settles knows that being an analyst means walking a fine line. Every game has a winner. And a loser.

“As an analyst, you can’t water it all down,” Settles said. “You have to bring out the good and the bad. It’s a tough part of the business, being critical. But you have to.”

Davis, who witnessed Settles’ preparation as a player, recently saw that trait was still part of his DNA.

Settles made a match against Rutgers when the school’s 1976 Final Four team was honored. This team was coached by Tom Young, who previously worked with Davis in Maryland. The two are good friends. Settles reached out to Davis to get Young’s number, then called the former Rutgers coach to talk about this season as part of his pregame preparation.

Davis watched this match and was impressed with Settles’ finished product.

“He did it in a way that made Rutgers fans proud of the story and yet he didn’t make anyone look bad,” Davis said. “He has a good way about him, of trying to bring out positive things. He can talk about negative things in a positive way.

There’s a part of that TV gig that basketball didn’t prepare Settles for.

“I’m at the point now, since I’m a TV celebrity, where I have to dye my hair because the grays are coming,” Settles said. “I have hair dye in the bathroom. I have makeup. I have eyeliner. It’s out of control. I have more product in there than my three daughters. It’s embarassing.”

About Donnie R. Losey

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