IOWA CITY, Ia. – For the first time in his coaching career, time is getting away from Fran McCaffery. You can blame Adam Woodbury and Mike Gesell.
McCaffery was into the second season of his rebuilding project as Iowa’s basketball coach when Woodbury and Gesell, both top-100 recruits, signed with the Hawkeyes. Now they’re heading into their senior seasons. McCaffery finds that hard to believe.
“I’ve already been here longer than I’d been at Siena,” McCaffery said of his past coaching stop. “A lot of people can’t believe that. Those guys were sophomores, going to be juniors, when we started recruiting them. And now they’ll be graduating in a few months.”
Fresh off a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance and a tie for third in the Big Ten, McCaffery’s sixth Hawkeye team will be a mix of experience and fresh faces.
The experience comes in returning starters Woodbury, Gesell, Jarrod Uthoff and Peter Jok, as well as part-time starter Anthony Clemmons. There’s also redshirt freshmen Nick Baer and Brady Ellingson in the mix. And a breakout season from sophomore Dom Uhl would come in handy. The newcomers are Isaiah Moss, Andrew Fleming, Ahmad Wagner, Brandon Hutton, Dale Jones and Christian Williams.
“They’re really good kids, and they seem to get along with each other,” McCaffery said. “They seem to mesh well with the older guys. That’s what we want to see. But they’re also competitive. They’re trying to get spots and carve their own niche. I’m excited about them.”
First-semester classes started Monday. In 2012, McCaffery was in Des Moines appearing at a Coaches vs. Cancer event on the first day of classes. It was the first time McCaffery could comment on Uthoff, who had transferred in from Wisconsin.
“It’s a great fit for us,” McCaffery said, "and a great fit for him."
Three years later, Uthoff heads into his senior season replacing Aaron White as the go-to guy.
“Aaron handled the spotlight really well, and I think Jarrod can, too,” McCaffery said. “It’s his fifth year in college. He’s going to see some tight defenses. But nothing seems to rattle him in general.”
Iowa center played all 45 minutes in PTL game Thursday.
Clemmons, a point guard who reinvented himself last season after a subpar sophomore campaign, is also a senior.
“He didn’t play well (as a sophomore) and he admitted it,” McCaffery said. “Most kids blame someone else. He said, 'It won’t happen again.’ I love that kid.”
Iowa shot 36.1 percent from three in Big Ten play last season, but should improve on that with Ellingson, Fleming, Jones and Moss in the mix. The 6-7 Baer is another outside threat.
“He’s a jump-shooting, versatile (small forward),” McCaffery said. “He can shoot the 3 or put it on the deck and make a play. He plays with energy and purpose.”
McCaffery also predicts a better season from Gesell, who shot just 26.7 percent from three last season.
“I think 35 percent at least, maybe more,” McCaffery said.
Baer’s size could also give Iowa some much-needed depth on the front line. McCaffery said Woodbury’s backup in the post will be filled “by committee. Dom, Jarrod, Dale, Ahmad, Nick.”
McCaffery will be able to play big or small. But he’s got to find someone who can rebound or this team will struggle at times.
“If Dale rebounds and shoots, he’ll be on the floor,” McCaffery said.
The same goes for anyone else in an Iowa uniform.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.