IOWA CITY, Ia. — Joe Toussaint needed only 11 words to endear himself to Iowa basketball fans.
The Hawkeyes’ freshman point guard met with the media for the first time Wednesday. He was asked what he could bring to the team in his debut season.
“My role this year,” Toussaint said, “is just to get wins for Coach.”
That’s certainly why Fran McCaffery brought Toussaint from New York City to Iowa City. The 6-foot floor leader grew up with a never-back-down mentality typical of hoopsters who hone their game in America’s biggest metropolis.
Toussaint said this of competing in tournaments in New York City’s parks, including the famous Rucker: “You have to play hard. You have to be tough. You have to play gritty. Or if not, they’re just going to kick you right out of the park.”
So it’s no wonder that Toussaint expects to play right away at Iowa. There’s an expected vacancy at point guard after three-year incumbent Jordan Bohannon underwent offseason hip surgery. Graduate transfer Bakari Evelyn also is on hand to fill that potential void.
“Depending on my performance in practice and off the court, that will determine how much I’ll play,” said Toussaint, who arrived here last month and is taking a sociology class along with practicing with his new teammates. “Just show the coaches that I’m a tough guard and that I’ll do whatever I need to do to be on the court.”
The strength in Toussaint’s game is speed and toughness. That’s why he considers his best attribute to be his baseline-to-baseline defensive intensity. He likes to guard people.
It’s his jump shot that is a work in progress. Toussaint likes to put up 700 of them each day, not leaving the gym until he’s comfortable with the results.
Toussaint said Bohannon, owner of one of the best-looking jump shots around, has been a valuable mentor already. Their styles of play couldn’t be more dissimilar. But they both want to win badly, and know that a point guard must lead the way for that to happen.
“I talk to Jordan a lot, and he will be here every step of the way to help me through it,” Toussaint said. “We play two different ways, but that doesn’t mean he can’t help me through the whole season.”
As for trying to be a leader of a group of athletes who have more experience playing at the Big Ten Conference level, Toussaint said: “I don’t care if people are older than me. I feel like I have the same respect as you. That’s why I’m here.”
But mainly why he’s here is to help a Hawkeye team in transition win basketball games. Toussaint will get his chance to prove he belongs. And that will happen quickly. Just as he likes it.
A second McCaffery settles in
Toussaint isn’t the only Hawkeye rookie expecting to make an immediate impact. Patrick McCaffery didn’t have to travel nearly as far to get here, but the middle son of coach Fran McCaffery also could fill an important role on the team this winter.
The 6-foot-8 wing player out of Iowa City West has long set his sights on being a Hawkeye, playing for his dad and alongside his brother, Connor, a redshirt sophomore guard.
Practices have a familiar feel for McCaffery, who grew up competing with and against his father’s players. He also was high school teammates with his older brother for a couple of years.
“Different people around us, but yeah, it has that kind of feel,” Patrick McCaffery said when asked if practices with Connor reminded him of those prep days.
Patrick McCaffery’s primary goal is to get stronger in order to meet the physical demands that will come with Big Ten play. He said he’s added five pounds, up to 185, and is starting to feel the difference. He has a ways to go, though, he admits.
At his best, McCaffery will give the Hawkeyes a uniquely gifted athlete in transition, someone whose long strides can help him get to the rim but whose rapidly improving jump shot will allow him to pull up and shoot over smaller defenders.
But he knows he must first show that he can make the proper decisions on the court at a faster pace than he’s been used to. And there’s the other end of the game to consider as well.
“Don’t play like a freshman. Don’t get sped up,” McCaffery said of what he’ll need to show to earn his minutes.
“Probably a lot of it will come down to defense.”
New-look Nunge won't be pigeonholed
Jack Nunge is not a Hawkeye newcomer, but it almost feels as if he is. The 6-foot-11 forward played key minutes as a freshman two seasons ago, mainly on the wing. Then he took a year off to get stronger. Now at 250 pounds and sporting a new beard, he does look like a new person.
Nunge didn’t want to take the bait Wednesday when asked if he was a “5” or a “4.” He’s both. And he’s neither.
“I’m just a player,” Nunge said.
His added strength allows him to better handle low-post play. Nunge knows he’ll have a size advantage down there at times, and now feels like he can make smaller defenders pay.
But he also doesn’t hesitate to head out to the 3-point arc if that’s a better matchup. Nunge made 19 3-pointers as a freshman and is adjusting to the new dimensions on the perimeter. The arc will be moved back from 20 feet, 9 inches, to 22-1¾ inches this college season.
“It will help a lot with spacing on the floor,” he said, “especially for our system.”
On the other end, Nunge believes he can help protect the rim better, something Iowa could desperately use.
“I’m not afraid to jump with anybody, trying to get as many blocks as I can, just use my length to the best of my ability,” Nunge said.
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at email@example.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.
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