IOWA CITY — All signs seem to point toward the end of the road for Iowa guard Connor McCaffery’s freshman season.
There’s not been an official decision made on shutting him down for the year, but his father and Hawkeyes head coach Fran McCaffery strongly indicated that’s the way it was headed after Connor underwent tonsillectomy surgery Wednesday following bouts of mononucleosis, tonsillitis and strep throat.
With a “minimum of probably a two-week recovery,” from the surgery, coupled with Connor not being able to “get his body back to where it needs to be,” according to Fran, the likelihood seems slim at best Connor will play again this year.
“I would say it looks more and more like that would be the possibility (seeking a medical redshirt) because of how hard it’s been for him to physically get in any way, shape or form ready to play,” Fran said in a teleconference Thursday. “My concern is his physical well-being. I don’t want to put him out there and put him at any risk of further injury because his body is so compromised. That’s the key, and it has nothing to do with the fact that he’s my son. If I felt any of our players were in a position where the doctors were telling me, ‘Look, his body is compromised.’ We had to do surgery, get those things out to avoid the horrible experience of mono, tonsillitis and strep at the same time, losing all that weight by virtue of his body being so compromised.
“(The doctors are) essentially going to make the decision, probably, like, ‘You’ve got to shut him down. You’re just not going to be able to do it.’ And then you regroup, present the case for a medical redshirt and move forward.”
If this is, in fact, it for his true freshman season, Connor caps one of the more bizarre freshman campaigns for any Iowa player.
It started this summer, when the former Iowa City West standout decided he’d redshirt his initial basketball season and focus on baseball. With the departure of Christian Williams in October, that designation changed, and he was a part of the basketball plans. Then in early November, after playing in both exhibition games, Connor sprained his ankle. While out with the ankle injury, he developed the aforementioned mono.
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He played in four games at 13.3 minutes per game — skewed up by 17 minutes against Southern — before the latest sickness took hold.
Fran wasn’t sure if this puts baseball back on the table and said he didn’t “know how that would work,” and is something they’ll look into. The UI compliance office laid out the details of Connor being eligible for the medical redshirt as it stands, meeting all requirements, but if he plays in any other games the rest of this season, it’s off the table.
If Connor was to return, it likely wouldn’t be until at least the Illinois game on Jan. 11, and he’d have lost even more conditioning opportunities.
“You can see it in practice, you can see it in games,” Fran said. “He’ll be really, really sucking wind and it’s just hard to play that way because you’re trying to process the game plan and trying to run what we want run, and you physically are just so gassed that you can’t be effective. That affects everything. It affects the rest of the team, it affects his confidence, and so forth.”
So what does that mean for the rest of the team?
Well, Fran said he’s totally confident in Jordan Bohannon playing 30-plus minutes in two games per week, but without a true point guard as his back up, “we’re going to pace him,” in practice. It means Brady Ellingson — who Fran said is healthy again after a sprained ankle limited him to less than a minute and one really rough possession against Colorado — and Maishe Dailey are going to “step up and help him.”
As Iowa welcomes Northern Illinois to Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday for a 7 p.m. tip (BTN Plus) and then reopens Big Ten play against Michigan on Tuesday, Dailey might be the most important key to that.
Fran didn’t specify if Dailey’s role would shift more primarily to a backup point guard, instead detailing the breadth of things the sophomore has done this season. Dailey has averaged 15.8 minutes in the 14 games this season and has just eight total turnovers — tied with Ellingson for lowest per-game turnovers on the team (of those who’ve played in more than mop-up duty). He also added that it’s likely Nicholas Baer plays more at a guard spot, and even threw out Dom Uhl’s name as an option.
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Fran said Dailey’s minutes were increasing regardless of Connor’s status, and that it’s been noticeable. It’ll have to stay that way and for Dailey to continue to meet his own expectations if Connor’s absence is to be minimalized.
“It was absolutely critical for our team, but I don’t think anybody involved in our program was surprised (by Dailey’s play),” Fran said. “Maishe’s earned more minutes anyway. He’s played extremely well. He’s blossomed with the opportunity.
“Whenever you have opportunity, the guys that take advantage of it are the guys who are intelligent. He’s a worker. He’s in the gym on his own. He thinks the game. He studies the game. He recognizes we need him, but we need him to do a number of things. … In his mind, he’s doing what he’s supposed to be doing. We just keep encouraging him to be aggressive and to trust his talent.”
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