IOWA CITY — It’s Joe Wieskamp’s team now.
The Iowa men’s basketball sophomore-to-be small forward isn’t the type to say it, and his head coach certainly won’t put that on his player. But that’s how things have shaken out in an offseason with a whole lot of shakin’ goin’ on.
The Hawkeyes have lost starting junior forward Tyler Cook to pro basketball, starting junior guard Isiaah Moss to transferring, and probably starting junior guard Jordan Bohannon for the 2019-20 season to the hip surgery he had last month.
Iowa has other players of note returning, like junior-to-be forward Luka Garza. But who’s the guy on the returning roster who has the most NBA potential tattooed on him in invisible ink? That’s Wieskamp, the kid from Muscatine who started all 35 games and averaged 11.1 points last season as a freshman.
If your head wasn’t spinning enough from the offseason turnstile that was the Hawkeyes’ roster, Wieskamp dipped a toenail in the NBA waters. He declared himself an early-entry candidate long enough to visit the Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder and get a sneak preview at life inside the biggest basketball bubble.
“I learned a lot,” Wieskamp said Tuesday. “There’s a few different things they want me to work on. I think you’ll kind of see that as the year progresses.”
If nothing else, prepping for cameo appearances in NBA practice facilities helped Wieskamp ready himself for NCAA Division I’s new-and-deeper 3-point line. It’s going from 20 feet, 9 inches to 22-1 3/4. Wieskamp made 42.4 percent of his shots from beyond the previous arc as a rookie.
“Right when our season got done I was shooting from the NBA distance to get ready for those different workouts,” said Wieskamp. “I’m kind of excited it got moved back because I’ve already been practicing that, then obviously when I decide to take the next step I’ll be even more prepared.”
Will that next step be next season?
“We’ll see what happens,” he said. “Obviously, that’s every kid’s dream, to play in the NBA. If it happens (next year), then it happens. If not, I’m just going to continue to work hard.”
Two-thirds of the players taken in the first rounds of NBA drafts are freshmen and sophomores. Each year a player with NBA aspirations stays in college feels like 10. So, Wieskamp’s farewell tour may come just as you feel you’re getting to know him. It’s called college basketball.
The upside? Players who were early-entry candidates and returned to campus came back with heads filled with constructive advice.
Cook and Peter Jok before him were McCaffery players who were early-entries and came back to campus for one more season. They came back motivated, not mopey.
“Pete and Tyler were both a lot better in terms of their leadership,” McCaffery said. “I thought Pete’s senior year when he led the Big Ten in scoring, he was an unbelievable leader for a very young team.
“I thought Tyler was a completely different player last year, though the year before his numbers were still good. But from a leadership standpoint, from a confidence standpoint, he was substantially better. I expect the same from Joe.”
“I definitely have to step up big-time this year and be a leader,” Wieskamp said. “A lot of you guys know I’m not the most vocal guy. I kind of keep to myself, just kind of go into the gym and do my thing. I’m going to have to really expand myself, be a more vocal leader this year and take a big, strong step.
“I have to become more assertive. A lot of times in games I kind of stuck around the corner and let shots come to me. I’m going to have to be more aggressive and go out and search for shots.”
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Assuming Bohannon isn’t back this season, a team that started three juniors last season will start no seniors this season. But basketball is defined by talent, not age.
Wieskamp, McCaffery said, “made big shots in big games, made them in the NCAA Tournament. He’s got that makeup that I think enables him to be great early, right off the bat. And then it’s understanding how to take another step, which I think he will.”
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