IOWA CITY, Ia. — Local fans haven’t gotten a first-hand look at Iowa’s men’s basketball players this summer after the demise of the Prime Time League.
But behind the scenes, the Hawkeyes have been working four hours a week with coaches, plus weight training.
On offense, coach Fran McCaffery said an emphasis has been developing more 3-point shooters to help stretch the floor for five post players he believes can be consistent scorers inside. Iowa shot 37.5 percent from the arc last season, but two players (Jordan Bohannon and Isaiah Moss) accounted for nearly 60 percent of the team’s made 3-pointers. More players capable of shooting from the outside will make the Hawkeyes harder to guard, McCaffery said.
And, naturally, defense is getting plenty of attention in summer practice sessions after the Hawkeyes surrendered 78.7 points per game while finishing 14-19 last winter.
“We’ve locked in to be being better. We’re more physical. I think more connected, whether it be in transition or half court. Communication has been a big key,” McCaffery said this week, about halfway through the summer workouts. “You’ve got to communicate to where it makes sense for everybody and everybody understands. You can’t have a bunch of guys yelling and it doesn’t make sense to anybody. So we tried to really streamline that and make sure we have everybody communicating in a way that’s effective.”
McCaffery is confident he will have a veteran and deep team this season after losing just one senior (Dom Uhl) to graduation. In the meantime, his players have been working on their individual development as well. Here’s how McCaffery views their progress:
Nicholas Baer, forward
What’s going on: Baer is coming off a junior season in which he never found his shooting touch after missing six games with a broken finger. His 23 3-pointers were half of his sophomore total. Regaining that stroke is vital, McCaffery said. “He’s all over the place, making plays, competing. But he’s making shots, which is really a game-changer for not only him but our team. You look at us a couple of years ago when he makes nearly 50 3s, that was a big boost for us,” McCaffery said. "And he was always a guy that could make them at crunch time. I expect him to be the same.”
Cordell Pemsl, forward
What’s going on: A year ago, Pemsl was recuperating from hernia surgery and went on a diet that saw his weight drop from 252 pounds to 234. He’s at 229 now, McCaffery said, and that is helping him develop a bit of a perimeter game, out to 17 feet. “You feel like maybe ‘I’m not as strong as I was,’ but you’re quicker and bouncier than you were,” McCaffery said of the slimmed-down Pemsl. “Your stamina is better. He looks lean and fit.”
Ryan Kriener, center
What’s going on: Kriener is headed the opposite direction. At 6-foot-9 with long arms, he has opted to bulk up to 260 pounds and become more of a true center as the primary backup to Luka Garza. Kriener’s sophomore year was derailed by two concussions, but he played his best basketball in the season’s final two weeks. “He looks good,” McCaffery said. “He’s a ‘5,’ but he can stretch the floor and shoot it. He’s not going to hesitate. He can fire.”
Tyler Cook, forward
What’s going on: Cook went through the NBA draft process this spring and opted to return to Iowa for a third season as the team’s starting power forward and most athletic player. McCaffery is excited about what he’s seen from Cook on the court but also as an emerging leader, perhaps someone who can set the tone in the locker room the way Peter Jok did two years ago. “He’s really a handful with his athletic power, his quickness, ripping and driving and getting to the rim and finishing,” McCaffery said. “He’s getting the guys together a lot. He’s talking a lot. He’s getting them talking. He’s been very encouraging. It’s been fun to watch. Because a lot of guys say, ‘I want to be a leader.’ But they don’t know how to be a leader, they don’t know what to do. He’s been really mature and smart about it. … You have to have the kind of work ethic that gives you the credibility when you speak up.”
Maishe Dailey, guard
What’s going on: Dailey was asked to play both wing spots and even some point guard last season as the Hawkeyes lacked numbers in the backcourt. He should be able to concentrate on being a wing this season. At 6-7, his length can make him a difficult defender. McCaffery wants him to work on being an improved rebounder, a must for anyone playing the small forward spot. He is also encouraging Dailey to shoot more 3-pointers after he connected on 39 percent of them a year ago. “He’s got a great stroke, a very soft ball, comes off his hand nice. He’s got great arc,” McCaffery said. “I told him, ‘You should have shot more. Know and understand that I want you to shoot more 3s.’”
Isaiah Moss, guard
What’s going on: Entering his fourth year in the Hawkeye program, Moss is looking to make big strides as a ball-handler. The team’s starting shooting guard also threw his name into NBA draft consideration but said he never considered leaving; he just wanted the feedback. He has shown that he can be Iowa’s best open-court player, but hasn’t done so game in and game out. “He kind of gave it up, moved without it and then shot it in the hole,” McCaffery said of Moss’s mindset last year. “But he’s moving and driving. He’s ripping it down. He’s a guy who’s more comfortable with the ball in his hands than he has been. And he has to be, especially if he wants to play at the next level.”
Jordan Bohannon, guard
What’s going on: Bohannon has put together two terrific seasons as the Hawkeye starting point guard. But he took a beating last year after Jok’s graduation left him a bit of a marked man. His numbers were up, but he could clearly use a little more help. “It’s just getting in the physical shape he needs to be in to handle the attention he gets,” McCaffery said of Bohannon’s summer goal. “It was impressive what he did last year because he got a lot more attention than he got the year before. They worried about him and he still made 96 3s.”
Luka Garza, center
What’s going on: Garza’s summer workouts actually began in the spring, when he returned to his Washington, D.C., home and promptly got in the gym. McCaffery was impressed by the physical changes he saw in his 6-11 center when he returned to campus last month. “I think he’s moving well. He’s shooting the ball phenomenally well,” McCaffery said. “He’s a tremendous 3-point shooter and he’s just killing it from there.”
Jack Nunge, forward
What’s going on: Nunge had a setback when he contracted mononucleosis just as the school year ended. McCaffery was worried that he’d come back much skinnier. That wasn’t the case. “He’s got muscle definition, put the weight back on,” McCaffery said of the 6-11, 225-pound power forward. “He’s working on getting his shot off quicker and attacking the rim.” Nunge was forced into much of his playing time on the wing last season, where he struggled at times to defend quicker opponents. He projects as more of a “stretch 4,” McCaffery said. “He’s to the point now physically where he’s really holding his own. … I’m excited about him. He’s really talented.”
Connor McCaffery, guard
What’s going on: Fran’s son has recovered from the brutal mix of injuries and illnesses that robbed him of all but four games in what would have been his freshman season (he was given a medical redshirt). He’s back up to 210 pounds. He enters this season as the primary option at backup point guard. “He’s the one that really understands the offense and gets the ball inside, feeds the post,” McCaffery said. “You need your point guard to be able to load those big guys. We have five big guys, all of whom can score. Very few teams have that. But he’s working on his outside shot too, to be able to stretch the floor.”
Joe Wieskamp, forward
What’s going on: The Muscatine native comes in as one of the most highly regarded recruits in recent Iowa history. And his skills and quiet confidence are evident in the way he carries himself, McCaffery said. “He’s a guy that figures to play a lot as a freshman, so it’s good to get him in here early. He’s got time now he can just settle down,” McCaffery said. “Sometimes, freshmen come in and they’re a little bit scatter-brained. It’s a little overwhelming. But he’s got everything organized. He’s always on time. He’s where he’s supposed to be. He’s got a schedule, he sticks to it.”
CJ Fredrick, guard
What’s going on: Fredrick, a Kentucky native, has shown that he can play either guard spot. McCaffery praised his shot-making skills, but said it’s premature to see him as primarily a shooting guard. He’ll be in the mix to back up Bohannon. Fredrick also has indicated that he would be open to a redshirt season if that’s what Iowa’s coaches think is best for both his development and the team. “He’s a grinder. He’s a competitor,” McCaffery said. “He’s a smart, tough kid.”