IOWA CITY — Maishe Dailey might as well be a freshman.
Not in terms of his acumen for head coach Fran McCaffery’s system, or even his physical readiness to play against Big Ten-caliber opponents, but rather being comfortable enough to marry the two in a game played at a speed you can’t really understand until it’s experienced.
He didn’t redshirt his freshman year, but played in just 92 total minutes over the course of 12 games of the 2016-17 season. McCaffery has said he’s not surprised now, with the contributions Dailey has given this year, based on how hard he worked in the offseason, but almost no one saw him being this important to the team coming in.
But there’s little doubt now that over the last three games, he’s provided something the Hawkeyes have lacked: consistency. In 20 minutes per game against Indiana, Iowa State and Southern, he averaged six points, five rebounds, three assists and turned the ball over just one time total. He’s gone from five minutes against South Dakota State and four minutes against Penn State to one of McCaffery’s first subs.
“He’s just gaining confidence; he has that ability,” McCaffery said after Iowa’s win against Southern. “He’s an amazing person that way. He just kept plugging (away). He’s not a complainer. He doesn’t mope. He knew he had a lot to learn, he was trying to learn it and get better.
“Maishe has slowly but surely figured everything out. I’m proud of how he has persevered and accepted the challenge. We need him to do what he was doing.”
Dailey benefited in terms of this chance to just get in the rotation to begin with when Christian Williams left the team right before the seasons started. But he wasn’t a featured part of that rotation as someone who played a lot of meaningful minutes until recently.
He played his way into those at Indiana in particular, when he helped lead Iowa back to within one during what ultimately was a fruitless comeback attempt.
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Dailey comes across as one of the more stoic or quiet players on the team, but that should not be mistaken for a lack of belief in himself. When asked Tuesday if he had surprised himself over the last few games, Dailey was quick to respond, “not at all.” When asked Sunday after the game if at any point last year he doubted this would happen for him, he gave a quick and firm, “no.”
Those he relies on heavily for support — namely his mom, Wyashica Tabb — have struck a good balance of encouraging him but also keeping him humble.
“She’s just said to stay focused and don’t be content with where you are,” Dailey said. “Her message, and everyone in my family’s message is to not be content and keep working hard.
“I don’t feel like I’ve been playing that great. I just feel like I’m getting better every game because it’s my first go-round with games I didn’t play too much in last year. I’m learning with experience.”
His teammates can tell, and they’re as happy for him as anyone. Fellow sophomore Jordan Bohannon has been talking Dailey up most of this season, as has Isaiah Moss, both saying at one point or another they like when Dailey guards them in practice because it’s the toughest challenge.
Bohannon echoed McCaffery in saying Dailey’s offseason work — which was set back by a back injury over the summer that kept him sidelined during their European trip — is what’s gotten him to this point.
It’s also admirable, Bohannon said, how Dailey handled a freshman year that was so much different from the others in his class.
“He’s so athletic and so versatile. … He’s a really coachable guy,” Bohannon said. He’s been huge for us in these last few games.
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“He stayed positive throughout his freshman year and kept working. That’s what we all enjoy about him is he kept working through the valleys of his freshman year, playing not much of the season. You can see it’s paying off now.”
Those surprised by what Dailey has done might not include him, his family or his team, but his contributions on both ends of the floor are a reality no matter who it is paying attention.
True to what he said his mom has told him, Dailey believes the last few games are the start, not the ceiling of what he can do. Especially given Iowa’s situation at guard, both now and in the short term future, the Hawkeyes and their fans are plenty hopeful he’s right.
“I’m not really doing anything out of the ordinary for anything I’ve ever done,” Dailey said. “I’m just playing my game and working at it.
“I just want to do what I’ve been doing times five. I feel like I can do what I’m doing but take it to a whole new level and be the energy guy that everybody points to on the scouting report.”
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