4 Iowa basketball thoughts: Fran McCaffery's transfer-portal plans, Joe Wieskamp's NBA decision
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Fran McCaffery on Wednesday provided a two-word summation to the growing trend in college basketball that could see entire rosters being built through the NCAA’s transfer portal, rather than via traditional high school recruiting.
“It’s awful,” Iowa’s 11-year men’s basketball coach said. “I talked to a friend of mine yesterday. He lost his three best players, and he just signed five guys out of the portal. He said to me, ‘It's like putting an AAU team together.'"
It’s not that McCaffery is anti-transfer. After all, he himself was a transfer back in his playing days. He enrolled at Pennsylvania in 1978 (after his freshman year at Wake Forest), then sat out his second year before enjoying three more years of eligibility. McCaffery said Wednesday, “I don’t understand what was wrong with the old rule.”
Yet, McCaffery understands (just a month shy of his 62nd birthday) that he must evolve with with the times, to an extent. The NCAA was expected to rule this week that athletes in football, basketball and hockey would be permitted a one-time transfer as undergraduates without needing to sit out a year of competition.
“The rule changed,” McCaffery said, “and you need to adjust. … It’s going to be a different look for pretty much everybody.”
The transfer portal (and Iowa’s activity on that front) was among the myriad offseason topics McCaffery addressed, nine days after the completed NCAA Tournament.
McCaffery acknowledges: Yes, he's looking for big men in the portal.
The losses of national player of the year Luka Garza (to a pro career) and 6-foot-11 Jack Nunge (to Xavier) leaves a profound hole for the Hawkeyes. Their only true center on the roster is freshman Josh Ogundele, a developmental project from England.
And even though Iowa got a bit of immediate help recently — that 6-foot-11 Riley Mulvey of Albany, New York, would finish high school early in order to reclassify and join the Hawkeyes next season — McCaffery knows he must tap the portal to collect some inside experience.
“Right now, (we’re) focused on the guys that are here and then also, trying to see what post players are going to enroll,” McCaffery said.
More:New York center Riley Mulvey commits to Iowa over Syracuse, Penn State, others
Note that he used the plural there, players. When asked to clarify, McCaffery said it would “be determined” whether Iowa takes one or two big men from the portal. That probably depends on how many scholarships are available (keep reading).
McCaffery said his sole focus in the portal is big guys; that he wouldn’t stockpile at any other position where he already has plenty of players.
“When you have a need, that’s different,” McCaffery said. “We have a need in the post, and that’s what we’re going to address.”
One prime possibility for Iowa was former Davenport Assumption (and Drake) player Liam Robbins, but the fluid 7-foot center announced Monday that he would be transferring from Minnesota to Vanderbilt. The Hawkeyes have held a Zoom session with North Dakota center Filip Rebraca (6-9, 223), who averaged 16.8 points and 7.6 rebounds last season while shooting 36.6% from 3-point range. But Rebraca has many suitors nationwide, including recently reported interest from South Carolina and Virginia Tech.
Joe Wieskamp is already talking to NBA teams about his future.
The second-team all-Big Ten Conference wing player is an excellent pro prospect, given his outside-shooting ability (46.2% from 3 this last season), athleticism and length. Wieskamp might have the most NBA upside of any player in the McCaffery era. It’s most likely that he’ll be moving on; however, he’s also wise to leave to door open to a possible Iowa return, in case he doesn’t get the NBA feedback he desires. McCaffery said he and Wieskamp visited with the NBA league office Tuesday. The next step is whether he’ll get an invite to the NBA Combine, which this year is a month later than usual (June 21-27). Wieskamp also tested the waters after his freshman year at Iowa in the spring of 2019 before opting to return.
Typically, 60-70 players are invited to the combine. NBA teams vote from a list of 105 players.
“If you don’t get one, they’re basically telling you you’re not going to get drafted,” McCaffery said. “I think he will get drafted, and I think he’ll get a Combine invite.”
More:Joe Wieskamp non-committal on future after Iowa's second-round NCAA Tournament loss
The NBA Draft is July 29; and a player can withdraw from the draft as late as July 19 and return to college. McCaffery said Wieskamp would have as much time as he needs to gather information and make a decision.
“I do think he took steps this year to really take his game to another level,” McCaffery said. “I'm really impressed with how he worked and how he performed. I think he's got the right mindset and the right personality and demeanor to compete at that level, and to put the necessary time in to make it happen.”
If Wieskamp does indeed depart, Iowa’s best fit at the “3” position would be Patrick McCaffery; incoming freshman Payton Sandfort of Waukee would be a depth piece there.
Jordan Bohannon’s decision should come soon, Fran McCaffery said.
Iowa’s all-time leader in assists and 3-pointers (and No. 9 in scoring) has left the door open to returning for a sixth year, considering the NCAA didn’t count this past season against anyone’s eligibility. On a related note, longtime Big Ten guard Brad Davison announced Wednesday he would be returning to Wisconsin for one final season.
As for Bohannon? He’s said he would return if name, image and likeness (NLI) legislation was passed in Iowa, but that didn’t happen. McCaffery said the two parties would be meeting soon. Bohannon’s decision is certainly of interest to returning point guards Joe Toussaint (who would still have three years of eligibility) and Ahron Ulis (who would have four). Obviously, they figured they would be next men in by now. Bohannon’s decision could throw a wrench into their thought process, something that McCaffery addressed Wednesday.
“What do you tell any of your players at any point in time? You tell them the truth,” McCaffery said. “They’re smart guys. They came here with the expectation that certain players will leave at a certain time. Well, (now) they may not. But at the same time, each of those guys got an extra year of eligibility as well. It's just a different scenario that we're all faced with. We’ll get through it.”
More:Jordan Bohannon says he would return to Iowa for sixth season if state passes NIL legislation
As of Wednesday afternoon, no new Iowa players had entered the transfer portal since Nunge and walk-ons Austin Ash and Michael Baer did in late March/early April.
And lastly … some encouraging news about an oft-injured Hawkeye.
Shooting guard CJ Fredrick battled through plantar fasciitis during his redshirt sophomore season, a painful foot injury that left him unable to do everything he wanted to do for the Hawkeyes. McCaffery said Fredrick shut down activities after the season but will not require surgery. The plan is for him to return soon. Assuming Wieskamp turns pro and Bohannon doesn’t return, Fredrick could be Iowa’s top scoring weapon next season.
“He's about a week away from being back out on the floor,” McCaffery said. “He’s chomping at the bit. He’ll jump into workouts next week, and hopefully he'll stay healthy.”
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.