Fran McCaffery, as usual, isn’t trying to dial down expectations.
The Iowa men’s basketball coach knows big things will be predicted for his 2020-21 team if All-America center Luka Garza returns instead of turning pro this spring. The Hawkeyes are in a lot of top 10s of national college basketball writers who assemble such lists in April.
Most coaches would try to tamp that down. McCaffery?
“I’ve really been impressed with our captains, Luka, Connor (McCaffery), Jordan (Bohannon) and Joe Wieskamp,” the coach said in a Thursday video conference with Iowa media. “They’ve all talked about what they’re doing to motivate themselves, what they’re doing to motivate each other to be great and to stay connected, and to recognize we have a chance to have a special season.
“Let’s remain focused on that and not just sit at home and do nothing. It’s hard with the situation we’re in, but I’ve been really impressed with the leadership, and most importantly, each individual’s inner drive to be accomplishing great things during this period of time.”
When teams will be allowed to convene on campuses nationwide, no one knows. When the next season will start, no one knows. Will Garza, the 6-foot-11 Big Ten Player of the Year, be a Hawkeye when those days come? We’ll see.
We do know Garza returned to Iowa City from his Washington, D.C., home two weeks ago. He did two weeks of self-quarantining after traveling. That suggests that, though he has entered the NBA Draft as an early-entry, his connection to his current team appears as strong as ever.
Garza hasn’t hired an agent, so he’s free to exit the draft pool and rejoin the team he led to a 20-11 record last season.
McCaffery said he’s approaching things now as if Garza still is among the 13 scholarship players on his roster.
Video conferencing with players has become a routine thing for McCaffery and his assistants since after March 12, the day the Hawkeyes were to have played Minnesota in Indianapolis at the Big Ten tournament.
“What we’ve done is continue to stay in direct contact with our players,” McCaffery said. “We’re obviously concerned with their safety, most importantly, as well as their families’. But also, can you get to a workout facility, can you get to a lifting facility, what are you doing conditioning-wise, are you staying on top of your online classes? Because everybody’s home.”
Staying in touch with his five incoming freshmen has been a focal point. One, center Josh Ogundele, went home to London last week to be with his family. He had been attending and playing ball at Worcester (Mass.) Academy.
McCaffery said the three Hawkeyes who redshirted last season because of surgery, injury or illness — guard Jordan Bohannon, forward Jack Nunge and forward Patrick McCaffery — “are, I think, all in very good positions.”
“Jordan has been really incredibly diligent since his surgery (a hip operation last December, his second in under a year),” McCaffery said. “He’s probably felt the best he’s felt in a long time.”
Bohannon averaged double-figures in scoring in each of his three full seasons. He played in 10 games last year before opting for surgery and taking a medical redshirt. He has made 284 career 3-pointers.
“I think he’s gotten his body to the point where he needs to be in terms of strength and weight,” McCaffery said.
Nunge is a junior-to-be who started Iowa’s first five games last season before a knee injury. Patrick McCaffery missed almost his entire first season, but his father said the 6-9 Patrick is over 200 pounds for the first time, “a good sign.”
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
In other news, McCaffery said it’s likely Iowa will host an in-season tournament rather than travel to an exempt multi-team event. Details, like everything else involving the season ahead, haven’t been determined.
The last time Iowa hosted such a tourney was 2007.