Fran McCaffery bullish on the progress Joe Wieskamp, Tyler Cook are making

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central
It's been a long offseason for the Iowa basketball team. Fran McCaffery's Hawkeyes last played a game March 1, an overtime loss to Michigan at the Big Ten Tournament.

ANKENY, Ia. — Everyone on his team is healthy — a contrast from the winter and spring, Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery reported Thursday. His players have gotten stronger and — he thinks — better at defense, too.

A renewed focus. The return of Tyler Cook. No big injuries.

As far as offseasons go — and this has been a long one for the Hawkeyes, considering they last played a game on March 1 — it’s been productive.

Before his appearance at a Coaches vs. Cancer golf outing at Talons of Tuscany, McCaffery touched on some of the issues surrounding his 2018-19 squad as it looks to rebound from a humbling 14-19 season.

Muscatine product Joe Wieskamp, right, is expected to play a major role this season as a true freshman for Iowa basketball.

Joe is ready to go

I asked McCaffery if 6-foot-6 Joe Wieskamp, the most decorated recruit to sign with Iowa in his nine years here, was ready to contribute at a high level as a freshman.

“Yeah, he is,” McCaffery said. “No question.”

There you have it. McCaffery continued.

“To me, it’s sort of what we all expected,” he said. “I expect it from him, and he expects it from himself — that’s the standard he has set, and he is working toward that end. Obviously, he’ll continue to get better, but there’s a maturity factor that’s critical, and he’s got that.”

Look for Wieskamp to play anywhere from the ‘2’ to ‘4’ in McCaffery’s fast-paced offense, but he’s a ready-made ‘3.’ (He could even play point guard if needed, McCaffery said.)

Wieskamp is legit. He can score, pass, rebound and defend. I'd be surprised if he's not among Iowa's starting five Nov. 8 vs. Missouri-Kansas City.

“Very responsible. Very focused,” McCaffery said. “That’s not always the case with freshmen — especially over the summer before their freshman year even starts.”

A recharged Tyler Cook seems ready to lead

The biggest offseason development, of course, was the return of Cook — who withdrew his name from the NBA Draft on the final day he could’ve in order to maintain college eligibility.

Cook’s talent is immense. A 6-foot-9 power dunker who led the Hawkeyes in scoring (15.3 points a game) and rebounding (6.8) last season but realized he had to step up in the leadership department entering his junior year.

One of the reasons Iowa was better with Cook and Jordan Bohannon as freshmen (19-15) than sophomores was because that 2016-17 team had a senior veteran in Peter Jok. Last year’s team lacked a senior voice in the locker room when the team went off track.

So far, so good — per McCaffery.

“He’s been great. Tyler’s been showing great leadership. I’m excited about that,” McCaffery said. “… Now, he realizes being our leading returning scorer and rebounder — he’ll get help from Nicholas Baer, Jordan Bohannon and others, but Tyler has kind of accepted that role — kind of what Pete was a couple years ago.”

McCaffery feels comfortable at the point

Asked about any players who have made a big jump this summer, McCaffery did the politically correct thing and listed just about everybody.

Jok told me earlier this month that Luka Garza has been a beast in practice. McCaffery said fellow sophomore Jack Nunge “looks tremendous” after an illness during the spring. He likes the physical improvement from big men Ryan Kriener and Cordell Pemsl, the newfound maturity of shooting guards Isaiah Moss and Maishe Dailey.

At point guard, he sees Bohannon, son Connor McCaffery (up to 212 pounds now, after dipping to 182 last season while battling a variety of medical ailments) and freshman C.J. Frederick being able to man the point-guard role. Fran McCaffery thinks that’ll free up Dailey (a smooth but raw 6-7 wing who had to shoulder some point-guard minutes a year ago) to focus on his offense.

“I want him shooting the ball rather than worrying about bringing it down,” McCaffery said.

On son Patrick's four cancer-free years: 'We've been very fortunate'

This was a Coaches vs. Cancer fund-raiser. And McCaffery and his wife, Margaret, are passionate in the fight against cancer. The disease claimed both of Fran McCaffery’s parents, and the couple’s son, Patrick, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer four years ago in what became a national story.

Iowa City West's Patrick McCaffery, as you may have heard, is one of the nation’s top 100 prospects in the 2019 class. He will sign with Iowa in November. But as his father knows, cancer can sometimes make an unwelcome return, which is why the term “cancer-free” is often uttered with caution.

“Technically, he is right now. He’s been that way for four years, which is a great sign,” McCaffery said. “Our people are on top of it to make sure it doesn’t come back and that he’s able to continue to have the life that he’s had. We’ve been very fortunate. He’s had a great summer playing on the AAU circuit, and he’s looking forward to playing for the University of Iowa.”

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.