IOWA CITY — According to Verbalcommits.com, there were 849 transfers in Division I men’s basketball between the end of last season and now.
Iowa had two, with graduate transfer Brady Ellingson going to Drake and Ahmad Wagner moving to Kentucky to give football a shot.
But after an offseason of outside speculation, rumor-mongering, and actual toe-dipping in the NBA draft, the Hawkeyes’ top nine scorers from the 2017-18 season are back for more.
Only three programs in the nation return more than the 90.5 percent of minutes played Fran McCaffery has coming back. His guys total 532 career games, 262 starts, 4,246 points and 10,520 minutes.
“We have a big junior class, one senior, also a big sophomore class,” said junior forward Tyler Cook. “I’m pleased with what we have coming back.”
The offseason X-factor was Cook. His 15.3 points per game led the team in its dreary 14-19 season. The day the season ended, with an overtime loss to eventual national runner-up Michigan at the Big Ten tournament in New York, Cook was noncommital about his future plans.
“To be honest,” Cook said at his team’s Media Day Monday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, “I didn’t know where I was going to be. People thought I was holding something back or not saying anything, but we gave you all the real spiel.
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“Obviously, I was frustrated after that game. I didn’t know where I was going to be.”
Cook made himself an NBA draft early-entry candidate in the spring, as did teammate Isaiah Moss. The latter’s time in the draft pool was short-lived, and Moss quickly announced he was returning to Iowa for his junior season.
But Cook made a Cook’s tour, if you will, of NBA cities to work out for pro teams. He didn’t announce his return for another year at Iowa until shortly before the NBA’s May 30 deadline for early-entires who hadn’t signed agents to decide if they were staying in the draft or not.
“I learned more about the skill set I need to have going into that level of basketball and also learned what I need to bring back for our team to be successful,” Cook said.
That starts — in Cook’s case and with his entire team — with improved defense. This Media Day had a definite air of humility to it. That will happen after you give up 78.7 points per game and countless open shots and easy baskets.
“I hope it was very humbling,” McCaffery said. “That’s the plan. I mean, you couldn’t be satisfied with it, anybody.
“We can’t have complacency for any possessions on either side of the ball on a daily basis. That’s a mind-set that has to be developed. It wasn’t there last year, and it’s got to be there this year."
“Non-stop defense drills,” is what junior guard Jordan Bohannon said he and his teammates have faced in offseason workouts and now in-season practices.
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“We’ve done the same drills, but we just amped up the energy. We’ve done more of them this offseason than we normally have, which is obviously needed.”
Offense isn’t a problem, not with four double-digit scorers back in Cook, Bohannon (13.5 points per game), Moss (11.1) and sophomore center Luka Garza (12.1).
Then you add freshman guard Joe Wieskamp of Muscatine. He’s no ordinary Joe. Instead, he’s the all-time Class 4A scoring leader in Iowa high school basketball.
“Joe’s been terrific,” McCaffery said. “Very professional in his approach to working, to listening, to figuring things out. Very competitive. Really locked in.
“He’s a guy I think most known for his ability to score and put up incredible numbers, but he’s a really good defender. He’s a really good ballhandler. … He’ll make a bunch (of 3-pointers), no doubt about that. But I think he’ll impact the game with his competitive instincts, his defense, his rebounding, his ball handling, and most importantly, his versatility.”
This isn’t a preseason Top 25 team. It isn’t a preseason first-division pick in the Big Ten. It isn’t a preseason anything. That’s what happens after you go 4-14 in your conference.
None of that matters, Moss said, “as long as everyone in an Iowa uniform knows we have something to prove to ourselves, that last year doesn’t define us.”
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