BASKETBALL

Players Stepping Out for Fran

McCaffery can seem volatile from a distance, but he resonates with players

I make it a point in life to ‘keep it real’. Such as, if I say something that later turns out to be stupid or wrong, I want to be the one to correct myself, or point out my mistakes before someone else points them out.

I have already done that this winter on twitter relative to Jordan Bohannon, and how I once believed he was not a Big Ten caliber guard.

In the past, I have been critical of Fran McCaffery relative to his sideline demeanor.  I believed that put Iowa at a disadvantage with the officials, in addition to poor optics and how that could potentially impact recruiting.  I’ve also criticized his two-foul substitution stubbornness at times and his hesitancy to call timeouts.

However, he has dialed down the sideline antics in recent years, which seems obvious to those of us who watch every game.  The drive by national talking heads do not watch every game, and they only see the instances, which are more and more rare, of Fran blowing up, or getting sideways in postgame interview sessions this year.

However, one thing I have always pointed out, when critical of Fran’s sometimes volatile demeanor on the bench, is that his players must really, really love the guy. Why have I, and do I make such statements?  Because of the relatively low transfer rate we have seen during the McCaffery era.  It has definitely been lower than the Steve Alford or Todd Lickliter era.  More on that in a bit.  First, here are some recent anecdotal tweets from former Fran players you may find intersting:

These tweets are in addition to how lovingly Luka Garza talks about Fran, as recently as this past Sunday, when Iowa told him his number would be retired.

Now, for the Fran era transfer discussion.  Cully Payne, whom Fran inherited from Todd Lickliter, left in year one.  Brady Ellingson transferred to Drake as a grad transfer.  Trey Dickerson left after one year, to South Dakota, then transferred again to Georgetown for his senior year.  Some people have the wanderlust, which is their prerogative.  Ahmad Wagner was a grad transfer to Kentucky and played football and was in Bears camp.  Christian Williams transferred to Indiana State, Dale Jones to North Dakota and Andrew Fleming to Lipscomb.

Williams was an intriguing prospect after two years at Iowa, but that is what he still was; a prospect.  He averaged 2.4/ppg and 12.8/mpg his sophomore year at Iowa and had some, let’s say ‘favoritism playing time’ concerns relative to then incoming freshman Connor McCaffery.  He averaged 7.9/ppg and 6.9/ppg in the Valley his final two years.  Perhaps his playing time concerns were warranted, just perhaps for the wrong motivations. Dale Jones played a total of 11 games at Iowa over two years, due to injuries.  He had two serious knee injuries in his career as well as a fractured wrist.  In his first year at Lipscomb, Fleming averaged 3.2/ppg and 8.3/mpg. Next.

This last set of transfers is Cordell Pemsl, Isaiah Moss and Maishe Dailey.

Pemsl was a grad transfer and had stayed at Iowa for four years, battled several injuries, played some key roles and some key minutes.  Pemsl is averaging just under 3/ppg and 10.3/mpg this year at Virginia Tech and the Hokies are slated to be an eight seed in the NCAA tournament.  Those 10.3/mpg are lower minutes than any year he was at Iowa, and he also ran afoul of the law during his fourth year on campus, picking up an OWI and Driving with a Revoked License arrest.  Moss was also a grad transfer after three years at Iowa and he greatly desired the opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament and was able to get a scholarship at Kansas.  COVID19 shattered his NCAA tourney dreams.  Moss averaged 24.1/mpg his last year at Iowa and 24.6/mpg his one year at Kansas.

Dailey averaged 2.5/ppg and 12.5/mpg his third year at Iowa before leaving to Akron, where he sat out last season and this year is averaging 6.0/ppg and 3.4/rpg on 24/mpg.

Unless I am missing someone, that is the list.  Four grad transfers, one who quit the game of basketball and another that probably needed a change of scenery after run ins with the law, and another grad transfer that wanted to play in the NCAA tournament his final season.

There is no Tony Freeman, Jake Kelly, Aaron Fuller, Anthony Tucker or Jeff Peterson on this list, all Lickliter era transfers and each of them a good to very good ballplayer, even though Tucker could not stay out of his own way. There is no Tyler Smith level star on this list, as Smith left Iowa after Alford’s final year.

If Fran McCaffery were a tyrant or a madman, which he has looked like that on the sidelines during games at times during his tenure, we would likely have seen some star-caliber players leave the program before the grad transfer window and even then, Moss is the best player that has left the program and he did so with a degree in tow.

Occam’s Razor suggests to me, as many of his players would also echo, that McCaffery is a great player’s coach, whose player to coach loyalties run very deep.  Those of us on the outside just don’t get to experience that side of Fran, we only get a couple hours a night, 30-some nights of the winter and and a few zoom press conference highlight clips to make our judgements…which hardly seems fair…and I am pointing the finger squarely at myself.

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