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Rick Brown: McCaffery should keep recruit's number handy

[ 0 ] September 19, 2013 |

IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Tyler Ulis train has left the station. Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery has moved on.

McCaffery invested months of hard work and countless recruiting dollars trying to land the talented point guard from suburban Chicago. McCaffery’s efforts had him at the front of the line, too, until Kentucky swooshed in and bumped Iowa to the drive-thru curb.

Ulis announced that he had picked Kentucky over Iowa and Michigan State on Sept. 13, which came as no surprise to McCaffery or Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. They knew, well in advance, what was going to happen.

If I’m McCaffery, I don’t burn any bridges. I keep the relationship with the Ulis family cordial because you never know. Just look at Kentucky coach John Calipari’s selective approach. He always gets the flavor of the month with each recruiting class, which comes with being one of college basketball’s elite programs. But what happens to the previous class?

In Kentucky’s case under Calipari, they usually head to the NBA. Since the 2010 NBA Draft, 10 Wildcat players have left after one season and been drafted in the first round. That includes point guards John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and Marcus Teague.

But what about a player like the diminutive Ulis, custom-made for McCaffery’s up-tempo style of play? By all accounts, he’s not a one-and-done guy. Will Calipari recruit over him? Will Ulis get lost in the shuffle? Time will tell. But McCaffery will be smart to leave that door open.

That brings us to this weekend. McCaffery will welcome four players on their official campus visits: guards Brady Ellingson of Sussex, Wis., and Scott Lindsey of Oak Park, Ill., and forwards Dominique Uhl of Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., and Tory Miller from New Hampton Prep, N.H.

Iowa has been selective in the number of players offered scholarships this year. Forward Jackson Forbes of Corpus Christi, Texas, visited two weeks ago. Point guard Riley LaChance from Brookfield, Wis., has also been offered and is expected to visit soon.

Iowa has four scholarships available, with plenty of possibilities. The Hawkeyes could sign four during the November period. They could sign two or three, and hold the others for the spring when an appealing transfer or late bloomer might pop up. A point guard remains on the shopping list, since Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons will be halfway through their eligibility heading into the 2014-15 season.
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McCaffery’s rebuilding efforts have resonated with Hawkeye fans. A 25-win season and run to the NIT title game in 2012-13 was definitive progress. But getting to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006, winning an NCAA game for the first time since 2001 and getting better TV exposure in prime time are all necessary to open those recruiting doors wider. To today’s recruits, Iowa’s booming success in the 1980s and 1990s never happened.

Practice officially starts a week from today, and Iowa will take expectations into the season. The Sporting News has Iowa 23rd in its preseason poll. Blue Ribbon has the Hawkeyes 24th. Lindy’s has Iowa at 17th.

“There’s no question we’re thrilled about that, and we’re embracing it,” McCaffery said. “But you have to be smart. It’s one thing to be ranked in the preseason. It’s another to be ranked during the season, and at the end of the season. Defensively, we were good last year. Rebounding was good. Offensively, we have to be more consistent. But I think we have more weapons.”

They include forward Jarrod Uthoff, ready to play after back-to-back redshirt seasons, and freshman shooting guard Peter Jok. McCaffery said that Jok, who was fighting a hand injury this summer, and Gesell, who broke his hand during the Prime Time League, are both 100 percent heading into practice.

McCaffery also said he’ll stick with an 11-man rotation this season.

“It’s definitely going to work, because of the chemistry we have,” McCaffery said. “The players, they want to win. And they legitimately really care about each other, like each other and support each other. When you have selfishness and infighting and try to play 11 guys, it’s going to be a disaster.”

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Rick Brown: Rick Brown covers men's basketball for The Des Moines Register and Hawk Central. He's married and the father of two. He also covers golf for the Register. View author profile.

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