IOWA CITY, Ia. – Fran and Connor McCaffery were two miles apart at 2 p.m. Wednesday, both delivering the same message.
Fran McCaffery, Iowa’s men’s basketball coach, was touting one of next year’s prized recruits, center Luka Garza, to a roomful of reporters on National Signing Day at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Forward Jack Nunge is also expected to sign his Letter of Intent on Thursday.
There’s a third highly regarded member of the Hawkeyes’ 2017 class, however, and this one happens to be living under McCaffery’s roof. Connor, a senior at Iowa City West, plans to play for his father, but isn’t able to officially sign at this time. The addition of Garza and Nunge already will take Iowa to 14 scholarships next season, with only 13 available. NCAA rules prohibit the signing of a 15th player, meaning something has to change before young McCaffery can come on board.
“It’ll get figured out. I’m not worried about it,” Connor McCaffery told a single reporter in the hallway outside the West High gymnasium Wednesday.
Connor is a 6-foot-6 point guard rated by ESPN as the top player in his class in Iowa, 83rd in the nation. He made the decision to play for his dad two years ago. Normally, that would mean a signing-day ceremony at his school, possibly a news conference and tons of congratulatory messages pouring in on Twitter.
“I honestly don’t care. It doesn’t make a difference to me,” McCaffery said of the absence of such activity.
“I’ll have some type of signing party eventually, just depending on when it is.”
Fran McCaffery acknowledged that his son’s recruitment has been much different than other top prospects, like Garza.
“It is stressful in the sense that you want everything to work for him,” Fran McCaffery said of Connor. “You kind of want Connor to be able to look at other places and look around. Is this where I want to go to school? Is this who I want to play for? Is this the style of play for me? Do they meet the academic criteria that I laid out for myself? Do they need me?
“The timing of recruiting is often critical, so he's not really had that opportunity. So it makes it fun and exciting. But at the same time, a little different. I think in the end, it will all work out.”
Connor McCaffery is uniquely positioned among America’s top high school senior athletes. Much about his immediate future seems up in the air, although he’s hardly stressed about the uncertainty.
What is known: McCaffery will play basketball for his father, however the scholarship situation works out.
He also intends to play baseball at Iowa, as a left-handed, power-hitting outfielder with a high ceiling.
He may have the grades and the ACT score to qualify for an academic scholarship.
There’s been some talk that he would play one season at a prep school to delay his arrival on campus and allow for the basketball scholarship situation to clear itself up. That seems like a remote possibility, however.
“You have the scholarship component. You have the baseball component. It's a lot of moving parts with him,” Fran McCaffery said.
“But he's not in any rush.”
Connor McCaffery is first focused on his upcoming high school basketball season. Practice starts Monday. He is one of only two returning starters and knows he’ll be thrust into more of a leadership role this winter, something he’s prepared to embrace.
He wants to lead his Trojans to a state championship, of course, but also is focused on improving all his statistical numbers, starting with assists. As a junior, he averaged 15.5 points, 4.9 assists and 3.5 rebounds.
“I consider myself a smart player so I think I’ll be able to pick up on stuff pretty quickly,” McCaffery said of his adjustment to the Division I college level.
“I think everything just has to be tighter, quicker, just because of the speed of the game. I need to better my ballhandling. My passes need to be more crisp. I need to get my shot off quicker.”
McCaffery will mix in some time in the batting cages this winter to keep his timing sharp and prepare for his summer baseball season. He has become accustomed to handling the workload of both sports simultaneously.
“I consider myself a baseball and a basketball player. Whichever season I’m in, I’m going to focus on that and I’m going to play hard and do whatever I can to help that team win,” McCaffery said.
That will continue in college. Fran McCaffery has long supported his son’s baseball ambitions and enjoys attending those games. Connor said his plan is to be on a basketball scholarship rather than baseball, since the latter sport has only 11.7 to divide among about 40 players.
That means basketball will be his first priority at Iowa, Connor McCaffery said. He will join Rick Heller’s baseball team full-time once that season ends.
“It all comes down to time management. My school work and the baseball/basketball side of things,” McCaffery said. “Coaches working together. That’s going to be a big factor. I think my dad is going to be very helpful in that. And I think coach Heller is going to be reasonable, too.”
This winter’s ritual won’t change for the McCafferys. Fran and Connor pore over the video from every one of his high school games (which also will include sophomore forward Patrick McCaffery likely in the starting lineup). Father gives pointers to the sons, and Connor looks for ways to apply them in the next game.
It will be the same going forward in winters to come, no matter how or when the scholarship situation shakes out.
Connor McCaffery, who is contemplating a career as a basketball coach as well, is already picturing how his career may play out, with the Hawkeyes already having two young point guards on the roster. Sophomore Christian Williams and freshman Jordan Bohannon are expected to share those duties this year.
“Jordan’s smaller (6-0),” Connor McCaffery said. “He’s a really good shooter, so he could play the 2 guard and I could play the 1, but then I could guard the 2 and he could guard the 1. So that’s just one situation.”
He may not have signed Wednesday, but it’s obvious Connor McCaffery is ready to deliver.