The 1980 Iowa Final Four team was a nearly unstoppable hardwood force. Led by sophomore guard Kenny Arnold, and All-America guard Ronnie Lester, the Hawkeyes went on a Cinderella run, before ultimately losing to Louisville in the NCAA tournament semifinals. Now, close to 40 years later, the players are coming together once more to help one of their own.
In the years since the Hawkeyes’ memorable run, Arnold’s health status has been a rollercoaster. He was diagnosed with brain cancer in 1984, and has had several complications since then that have left him in a wheelchair. His teammates from that 1980 team have been there for Arnold all along, and will be holding a fundraiser basketball game for Arnold at 7 p.m. on May 4, at Mason City High School.
“All of the guys on that team are still really close,” former teammate Mike “Tree” Henry said. “One of the joys of being on that Final Four team is that we all still talk to each other on a regular basis, … We’re all still really close friends, the players, the coaches, and the administrative staff. It’s a special group that coach Olson recruited. We call ourselves the Teammates for Life, and that is so true.”
Arnold led the Hawkeyes in points and assists in 1980, scored 1,112 career points, and has the ninth most assists in Iowa history. He is one of six Iowa players with 1,100 career points, 350 assists, 250 rebounds, and 80 steals, and is second in Hawkeyes history in minutes played in the NCAA Tournament.
Henry is the Executive Director of the Kenny Arnold Foundation, which raises money to help fund cancer research. The two played together at Iowa for three years, have remained extremely close. Henry lives near Chicago, and is the former teammate who sees Arnold most often.
“We’ve been best friends since day one, when we met,” Henry said. “I’ve been right alongside him the entire time he’s been fighting this illness, going on 35, 40 years. As a best friend, brother, and teammate, he’s just a really special guy.”
Henry was one year ahead of Arnold at Iowa, and took the freshman on his unofficial visit to the school. The two hit it off right away.
“We just really hit off,” Henry said. “Similar personalities, we just love to have fun. Similar taste in music, everything. It really was a match made in heaven.”
In the years since his initial diagnosis, Arnold has had a series of mini-strokes that have impaired his mobility and ability to talk, but Henry said that his close friends’ spirits have remained high, though he has struggled with weight and muscle loss due to some of the medications he has taken. Though Arnold struggles to speak, Henry says that the two are so close that he can usually understand what his friend is trying to say.
“He has his up and down days, but he has kept an amazing attitude through the whole thing,” Henry said. “He’s very positive, and we’re doing everything we can to keep him comfortable,... after everything he’s gone through, I tell him he’s the toughest guy I know.”
Other former Hawkeyes expected to attend will include Mason City native Jeff Horner, and Charles City prep star Greg Brunner, along with Michael Payne, VInce Brookins, Todd Berkenpas, Clay Hargrave, Waymond King, Matt Gatens, Adam Haluska, Jarryd Cole and Josh Oglesby. Former Iowa and NFL quarterback Chuck Long will also be in attendance at the event. Admission will be $5, and fans will have an opportunity after the game to meet and talk to the players.