Freshman guards C.J. Fredrick and Joe Toussaint are starting for an Iowa men’s basketball team that takes a 5-3 Big Ten record into its home game against Wisconsin Monday night.
Without them, the Hawkeyes’ current eight-player rotation would be down to a nub. The two are from Cincinnati and New York, respectively. Their signings, like most other scholarship players, were the fruits of a lot of labor spanning years, not weeks.
Many head coaches pass on the bulk of recruiting to their assistants. It’s travel-intensive, time-consuming, often-unsuccessful work. Most programs land far fewer top high school prospects than those who wriggle off their hooks.
Iowa men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery, however, seems to have more vigor for wooing high school kids than ever. McCaffery, 60, was in West Des Moines last Tuesday to watch the Waukee-West Des Moines Dowling game and see two top junior Waukee players and an eye-catching Dowling freshman. That was the night before his own Hawkeyes team played Rutgers in Iowa City. A January night in Iowa. It’s what must be done.
“It’s one of the parts of this job that I enjoy,” McCaffery said earlier this season. That’s something not all coaches can say with honesty.
“It’s not something that can ever be dismissed. It’s not something that can ever be turned over to the assistant coaches — ‘You guys grind and I’ll make a few calls.’ — I’ve got to be out and I’ve got to be able to go out on my own. Some guys always have somebody with them. I’ve done this for enough years. I can find my ways to gyms and communicate with people and evaluate. That gives us the opportunity to have somebody else out on that day as well.”
You need a short memory in the recruiting game. Iowa State won out over Iowa last fall for heralded 7-foot recruit Xavier Foster of Oskaloosa. Days later, McCaffery got a commitment from 6-10 Josh Ogundele of Worcester, Mass.
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Three days after Ogundele signed with Iowa last November, McCaffery flew to Massachusetts for a visit he had already scheduled with the player. It no longer was an essential trip. The player was in the fold. McCaffery went anyway, on the morning after his Hawkeyes played a game in Iowa City.
Why? To strengthen the connection. McCaffery said he’s already Ogundele’s coach in some ways.
Not getting Foster was a body blow. Coaches can’t let such blows become knockouts, because there’s always the next kid to pursue.
“Recruiting can be frustrating at times when you work hard on somebody (and don’t get them),” McCaffery said. “It can be incredibly rewarding when you work hard on somebody and they come.
“I think we all realize that as much time as we spend with skill development with our guys, watching film, and preparation for games at practice, working hard in recruiting … is every bit as important as anything else we do. I think that’s got to continue to be the focus.”
McCaffery said every recruiting situation “is a snowflake.” Not the modern definition with a negative connotation, but the older one that means each is different.
“Some will have more people involved, some will have less people involved,” he said. “Some will make quicker decisions than others, some will drag it out. Some want the publicity, some don’t.
“But you can’t rush it, you can’t force it. You have to let it happen, do the job you do in terms of connection with prospects, being consistent with our message and making sure they know that we want them.
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“Then, ultimately, we’ll end up with a group that really understands what we have going on here and what we’re trying to do, and they fit perfectly.”
Iowa, like Drake, Minnesota, Utah and others, has offered Waukee 6-7 forward Payton Sandfort a scholarship. Waukee hasn’t seen the last of McCaffery.
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