Leistikow: Joe Wieskamp explains why he's putting NBA on hold, returning to Iowa
Although it seemed externally like a sensible decision for Joe Wieskamp to stay in school, internally, the debate was much more difficult for the 20-year-old from Muscatine.
The talented University of Iowa wing player ultimately decided to wait at least one more year to pursue a professional basketball career. The announcement he would return to the Hawkeyes for the 2020-21 season — presuming it gets played — flew under the radar Saturday, as it occurred during the NFL Draft.
“It was honestly a little bit harder of a decision than some people think,” Wieskamp told the Register. “There were definitely opportunities that I felt that, if I were to decide to leave, could have been there.”
The situation reminds me of former Iowa forward Tyler Cook's options in the spring of 2018. After a productive-but-not-fantastic sophomore season, Cook had an opportunity to get his foot in the door in the NBA’s G League. But he opted to return to Iowa before jumping to the pros, a decision that paid off.
Cook enjoyed a cup of NBA coffee with the Cleveland Cavaliers (11 games, 19 points) while becoming a solid G-Leaguer (averaging 12.9 points and 5.7 rebounds in 29 games with the Canton Charge) and earning more than $100,000.
"Coming back to school and working as hard as I can to try to become a first-round pick next year is something I want to do,” Wieskamp said. “And this Iowa team is something I want to be a part of this upcoming season.”
The COVID-19 pandemic factored into Wieskamp’s decision. He could have gone through the pre-draft process as he did last year without hiring an agent and still returned to school. But with in-person workouts and meetings off the table for the foreseeable future, Wieskamp didn’t see a lot of value in going through a process that might not amount to much.
Now, he doesn’t have to worry about what might or might not happen with the NBA over the next few months. He can focus on producing his best basketball year yet.
Wieskamp is working with an (unpaid) agent to help gather feedback on what he needs to do to become more attractive to general managers a year from now.
“I know those areas that I need to work on,” Wieskamp said. “I think I can get there one day.”
Consistency is probably at the top of the list.
Wieskamp (6-foot-6, 210 pounds) has demonstrated in his first two years at Iowa why he was a top-50 national recruit. He can score on the dribble-drive or from the 3-point line, especially from the baseline corner. His length helps him as a defender and rebounder. Wieskamp's dynamic 26-point night Jan. 10 helped Iowa, playing extremely short-handed, upend top-15 Maryland. He lifted his scoring average to 15.4 after a 30-point barrage Feb. 8 vs. Nebraska.
But Wieskamp's season ended with a slump. In Iowa’s final seven games, he was held to 4-for-24 (16.7%) 3-point accuracy and averaged 9.3 points. As the Hawkeyes sought help for all-American center Luka Garza, Wieskamp couldn’t provide it. Then … the Hawkeyes' season was suddenly over, with a 20-11 record, before their Big Ten Tournament opener because of the coronavirus concerns.
“The hardest part for me was realizing all the work we all put in throughout the offseason and the whole season,” Wieskamp said. "We felt that we put ourselves in a really good position to make a run in both the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.”
That unfinished business has been a top talking point during weekly team Zoom meetings, of which Garza is also joining even as he pursues the NBA Draft process. Garza is back in Iowa City, a notable development, recovering from his rugged season. Garza has said if he’s not “100%” guaranteed to make an NBA roster, he would return to Iowa.
With Wieskamp committed to next season, Iowa is off to a 1-for-1 start in keeping its expected Big 3 for 2020-21 in tact. The odds are good that Garza comes back, considering he’s not viewed as a first-round pick. And then there’s Jordan Bohannon, who filed paperwork for a medical-hardship waiver about four weeks ago and waits to see if he’ll be granted a fifth year of eligibility after December hip surgery.
“At the end of the day, they have to do what’s best for them,” Wieskamp said. “Obviously, we want them back. I’d love to play with both of them next season.”
In the meantime, Wieskamp is in Mason City with his girlfriend, former Iowa women’s player Makenzie Meyer. They have access to a gymnasium there. Meyer has one more semester of classes to finish in Iowa City this fall before applying to dental school, another bonus as Wieskamp sees to staying at Iowa. He plans to return soon to Muscatine, where he also has gym access.
Wieskamp realizes, like the rest of us, the high ceiling the Hawkeyes could have next season if the Big 3 return, not to mention starting backcourt staples Connor McCaffery and CJ Fredrick.
That’s why this offseason is so important for Fran McCaffery’s 11th team.
And Wieskamp got it off to an uplifting start.
“We have the potential to be really good next season,” Wieskamp said. “If everyone’s locked in and playing together and we’re playing to each other’s strengths, then we can make a run in the Big Ten, hopefully win that, and then make a run in the NCAA Tournament as well.”
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 25 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.