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IOWA CITY — Unlike many of his games, Connor McCaffery had box score numbers that stood out Tuesday against Georgia Tech.
The sixth-year senior left the bench to collect 10 points and 10 rebounds for the Iowa men’s basketball team in its 81-65 win over Georgia Tech, well above his season averages of 5.4 and 3.6.
As usual, though, it was non-statistical things that made McCaffery invaluable to his team. In both halves, the Hawkeyes were calmer and played better when he was in the game. His sharp entry passes, his sound defense, his knowledge of when to attack and when to hold up when an advantage wasn’t present — those are on a long list of positives that don’t stuff stat sheets.
A sixth-year collegian who knows how to play the game and sees the game is an asset few college teams have. Does he know more about basketball than most of his opponents?
“I do,” McCaffery replied. “That’s kind of arrogant, I guess, but I do. It’s just that simple. I know more than a lot of people.
“Because I’ve been doing it for 19 years, since I could walk. As soon as I could walk I was going to practices and film sessions. How many 4-year-olds would go to film sessions all day with their dad? That was always what I loved to do.
“Like I said, it’s kind of arrogant to say, but I feel most people would probably agree that I know more than the average player.”
“He’s a glue guy to our team,” Iowa forward Kris Murray said. “He’s a guy that everyone feels comfortable with on the court, a guy who makes the right play all the time.
“He’s unselfish. He just wants to win games.”
McCaffery is a player who averages just three shots per game. But he made 3 of 4 tries from 3-point distance Tuesday, and is 9-of-15 this season. Once a poor college 3-point shooter, he now is a weapon from deep.
Not coincidentally, perhaps, McCaffery is healthier than he’s been almost his entire career. Good health adds to confidence. Also, he is a one-sport guy after splitting time between basketball and baseball.
Inconceivably, it seems now, he briefly considered passing up the option of one more basketball season.
“After the Richmond game (Iowa’s first-round NCAA tournament upset loss in March), that was as bad a place as I’ve ever been,” McCaffery said. “I was not in a good place mentally. I did not want to come back.
“Once that kind of wore off, there was almost never a doubt.”
How would he really have walked away from one more season playing with his brother, Patrick, and for his father? He’s a future coach. His dad, Fran McCaffery, once was the nation’s youngest Division I head coach at 26.
“If you grew up and both your parents are lawyers and at dinner they talk about lawyer stuff,” McCaffery said, “you’re probably going to be a lawyer or at least go to college and major in it and see if you like it. If your parents are business people, you’ll probably try out business at some point.
“We talk about basketball. So that’s kind of always been what I’ve known.”
Fran McCaffery wasn’t a scorer as a player at Penn. His career average there was 1.9 points. He was, however, an excellent player, a ballhandler, distributor, defender and director. Connor is his extension on the floor during games.
“He's the leader of this team,” Fran McCaffery said, “so when he talks people listen, whether it's in practice, whether it's on the bus, whether it's in the locker room, whether it's on the bench.
“It really doesn't matter whether he starts or not. He's going to affect the game in a very positive way. He's going to settle guys down if they're struggling a little bit, if they get a little sped up. I think he really makes sure that we continue to play at our pace.”
He also makes sure his dad keeps considering new wrinkles.
“I send him plays all the time,” Connor said. “You can ask him. He’s probably annoyed.
“We put some stuff in. I like watching NBA side OBs (out-of-bounds plays) because they always have really, really good stuff. So any time there’s a timeout in an NBA game, I’ll pause it when they come out of the timeout. … We can adapt it to what we might have. It’s pretty easy.”
If you’ve watched much Hawkeye basketball, you know they’ve had a lot of success with inbounds plays coming out of timeouts. Box scores don’t have a stat for that. Box scores don’t capture the essence of what Connor McCaffery does. Basketball does.
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