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Friday’s opponent has added meaning for Fran McCaffery

[ 0 ] November 21, 2013 |

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Fran McCaffery still remembers the words to the Penn fight song.

“I’m not going to sing it, though,” McCaffery said.

Iowa’s basketball coach goes against his alma mater Friday when Penn visits Carver-Hawkeye Arena for a 6 p.m. game. McCaffery, who grew up in Philadelphia, Pa., and earned the nickname “White Magic” because of his basketball wizardry, started his college career at Wake Forest.

But he came back home to play his final three seasons for the Quakers. He played in two NCAA tournaments and an NIT. A guard, he led the Ivy League in steals and assists as a senior in 1981-82 and was voted the team’s most inspirational player.

Friday night’s game will also be a matchup between Penn senior and captain Dau Jok and his brother, Iowa freshman Peter Jok.

Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery calls to one of his players during their game against Maryland-Eastern Shore at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013. (David Scrivner / Iowa City Press-Citizen)

Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery calls to one of his players during their game against Maryland-Eastern Shore at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013. (David Scrivner / Iowa City Press-Citizen)

“Coach (Jerome) Allen does a good job of scheduling games to get juniors and seniors close to home,” said Dau, who played at Des Moines Roosevelt. “We had a choice of playing Kentucky, Iowa or UCLA. The connection to Coach McCaffery also added to it a little bit. (Coach Allen) just wanted me to get closer to home.”

This will be the third time McCaffery has coached against his alma mater. The first time came when he was just 27 years old and in his third season at Lehigh. McCaffery got promoted when Tom Schneider left to take over the Penn program. McCaffery’s team beat Schneider’s team in the 1987-88 season opener at the Palestra in Philadelphia, 96-75.

“I was coaching against my former mentor at my alma mater, so that was a little bit different,” McCaffery said. “I grew up going to that building as a youngster every Saturday night.”

The Palestra used to host college doubleheaders every weekend. McCaffery’s later father, Jack, worked at the storied arena.

McCaffery’s first game as head coach at Siena was a 82-77 loss to Penn at the Palestra to open the 2005-06 season. McCaffery, who earned a bachelor of science degree from The Wharton School of Finance and Commerce in 1982, also has a connection to current Penn athletic director Steve Bilsky. He was a Quakers assistant coach when McCaffery played.

Friday night will be the first time in 18 seasons as a head coach that McCaffery has sent a ranked team onto the floor. He had never had one of his teams ranked until Monday. Iowa, 4-0, was 25th in the USA Today Coaches poll. The Hawkeyes were one spot shy in the Associated Press poll.

“To be honest, a ranking in November means nothing,” Iowa forward Aaron White said. “It doesn’t mean you’re in the NCAA Tournament. It doesn’t mean you’re going to be one of the best 25 teams at the end of the year. What matters is the end of the year. That’s what we’re working for.”

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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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