Iowa Men's Basketball

Iowa basketball: Connor McCaffery's identity is 'key player' more than 'coach's son'

Hawkeye sophomore bringing way more to team than his name

Iowa guard Connor McCaffery (30) denies a shot by Maryland's Serrel Smith Jr. (10) during the Hawkeyes' 67-49 win over t
Iowa guard Connor McCaffery (30) denies a shot by Maryland’s Serrel Smith Jr. (10) during the Hawkeyes’ 67-49 win over the Terrapins last Friday in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — It’s something that should be obvious to anyone who has watched the Iowa men’s basketball team in the last year, but Connor McCaffery can play.

One of many reasons the Hawkeyes will bring a 12-5 record into their game here Friday night against Michigan is the glue Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery’s oldest son has given them.

The sophomore guard is second in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (4.36). He averages 7.1 points. 4.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 29.0 minutes. He plays multiple positions. He plays hard, he plays smart. He doesn’t back down from great players, doesn’t flinch in big moments.

But he’s the coach’s son, which means he has to be really good just to be accepted as competent. He doesn’t bring it up, but if you ask him what that’s like, he’ll tell you point blank.

“There’s definitely a double standard,” McCaffery said Thursday. “There is. Anyone who says there’s not, they’re just wrong.

“Doug McDermott (the All-American at Creighton who played for his father, Greg McDermott) was so good and they loved him, but then there’s those kids who are in the middle. It’s harder, because ‘OK, he’s only playing because his dad is the coach.’ ”

College coaches know if they give scholarships to one of their children to play for them, the kid better be good or it will be brutal for the whole family.

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Connor McCaffery was a four-year starter at basketball powerhouse Iowa City West, proved himself in AAU competition for several years, and it still doesn’t matter. He has to be better than OK in many eyes, or else his dad is simply running the McCaffery Family Business.

“It’s the Big Ten,” Connor said. “That’s not a thing anymore. That’s a thing in third-grade basketball. That’s not a thing when you’re trying to win real games. That argument is beat.

“He’s going to do what he thinks is best to win. He’s not here trying to benefit anyone but the team.”

Which is just what using Connor has done, to no surprise to his coach.

“I think it’s his mind,” Fran McCaffery said. “He really understands the game at a whole another level. Been that way for a long time.

“I think he started from day one at West High when they were very, very good, had really good players, and he was able to run that team as a freshman all the way through, winning a state championship in his senior year, as he did when he was a freshman. But also just watching him on the AAU circuit ... I’ve seen him against really good players in very difficult situations, and he usually is pretty successful.”

You’re the son of parents who were very good Division I basketball players, you’ve been immersed in the game your whole life, you’ve done of a lot of winning. If you had ever suggested to Connor McCaffery that he wouldn’t belong on a Big Ten roster, he would have shrugged you off like dandruff.

“To be honest,” he said, “I don’t really pay attention to what a lot of other people say because most of their opinions are irrelevant, and kind of stupid.”

Everyone is wrong about things. Dumb opinions are those that don’t evolve when evidence that should change their minds is staring people in the face. Seventeen games into his second full season, it’s clear Connor McCaffery was a good “get” for Fran McCaffery.

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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