Austin Ash has been a feel-good story since he first donned the black and gold of the Iowa Hawkeyes.

He's a local kid. He grew up a Hawkeye fan. He's been ride-or-die for his teammates since day one, supported them despite spending the large part of his five years in Iowa City on the bench, and paid his own way for school in all but one of those years.

On April 1, he announced that after his five years as a Hawkeye, he'd be entering the transfer portal. This will be his final shot at playing significant minutes for a NCAA Division I basketball team. He's got one year of eligibility remaining.

Here are several reasons why the fit makes sense.

Proximity and Connections

Though Ash's No. 1 priority is probably finding the school where he'll receive the most playing time and location may not be a huge factor, it's certainly possible he may favor a school a little closer to Cedar Rapids and Iowa City than traveling to the east coast and playing for a school like Bryant University.

Like I said previously, Ash is a Cedar Rapids native, but he played his high school basketball for Mount Vernon. You couldn't tell me a player that earned a preferred walk-on offer from Iowa and lives just an hour away from Cedar Falls was completely off Coach Jake's radar.

I mean, averaged 23 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.5 steals, and one block as team captain his senior season for the Mustangs. The kid can hoop.

He was good enough to play with the state's premier AAU program, the Iowa Barnstormers. Over that time frame, he built a relationship with current UNI big man, Austin Phyfe.

It's uncertain as to whether or not Phyfe will return for his final year of eligibility due to the impact long-haul COVID had on his conditioning this season.

Even if the Waverly native is unable to return, the center has earned a solid reputation in Cedar Falls -- both in play and as a person. If Phyfe vouches for Ash, he'll be sold to the coaching staff and roster.

To boot, imagine the extra pull for fans from Mt. Vernon and Iowa City to come to the McLeod Center. This would be the first time they'd be able to see Ash play substantial minutes, and it's not much of a drive to see their hometown hero and former Hawk.

More butts in the seats = louder and bigger crowds. Louder and bigger crowds = more money for the athletic department via ticket sales. More money for the athletic department =  better facilities. Better facilities, louder and larger crowds = getting more attention from a variety of recruits that can continue to impact the program.

And who knows? If Ash steps in and produces at a high-level for the Panthers, maybe UNI becomes a preferred destination for those in the transfer portal.

This is a win, win, win.

DI Talent

It's not like Fran McCaffrey would just let anyone on this roster solely because it's a feel-good story. Ash had to provide some value to the team, even if it was just in practice.

Watch this video he posted on Twitter and you'll get a glimpse of that practice value:

The shot-making ability alone is enough for him to step into a role and earn minutes at UNI.

The Panthers are entering next season without Trae Berhow, Noah Carter, and possibly AJ Green on the roster. They need guys who can hit jump shots.

Enter the former Hawkeye. At the very least, he would step in and provide a big help in this one critical area.

Remember Spencer Haldeman's 2019 season and how important he was for that regular-season Missouri Valley Conference championship team? In all reality, that's all Ash may have to do should he become a Panther. UNI would take all they can get from the 6'3, 180-pound senior in terms of defense via his length, basketball IQ, and leadership, but the one guaranteed thing he can bring to Cedar Falls is his knockdown jump shot.

A shooter who makes 36%-38% of his threes can go a long way in terms of helping an offense -- spacing for teammates to attack the basket and (obviously) scoring.

He's the Panther Prototype

I've heard nothing but positive things about who Ash is as a person.

This is what Coach McCaffrey had to say about him in Iowa's press release announcing his decision to transfer:

Austin was a valuable teammate on and off the floor the last five years. He is a Division I player who didn’t see the minutes he deserved because we were loaded at the guard position. Austin will be a great asset wherever he goes because he is a great shooter, doesn’t make mistakes and has tremendous character. We wish him nothing but the best.

John Leo was the play-by-play voice of the Hawkeye basketball and football squads the last two seasons for KRUI in Iowa City. He'll be making his second appearance on Cornstalks and Sports Talk (which you should check out on Apple PodcastsSpotify, or live on Saturday mornings on AM950 or KOEL.com) this weekend at 9 AM. This is what he told me about Ash:

He brings so much to the team. (He's a) a great team player, very energetic. ... I'm not sure Iowa wins the (Big Ten) title without his team comradery element.

That sounds like a Panther basketball player through-and-through to me.

While Coach Jacobson doesn't usually go after players with less than two years of eligibility left via the portal, Ash might just be a worthy acception.

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