Iowa forward Joe Wieskamp has the NBA in the back of his mind, but is focused on leading the Hawkeyes this winter. Hear more: Mark Emmert, firstname.lastname@example.org
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Joe Wieskamp will be returning to his hometown of Muscatine next month with his Iowa Hawkeye coaches and teammates in tow.
They’ll spend four days teaching children ages 7-12 the finer points of basketball at the local YMCA, to which he also gave a nod when he was named the state's top high school basketball player.
But it’s much more symbolic than just a fun opportunity for kids to mingle with their heroes. It’s a sign of Wieskamp’s stature within the Iowa program heading into his second year on campus. He’s the face of a team undergoing a significant transformation, and he’s ready to embrace all that comes with it.
“I’m going to have to be a lot more vocal, which is something I’m not necessarily used to,” the mild-mannered Wieskamp acknowledged Tuesday. “Guys are going to help me out. I’m going to try to help other guys out. We’re going to try to stay connected.”
Wieskamp was the starting small forward for the Hawkeyes as a freshman, averaging 11.1 points and 4.9 rebounds on a team that finished 23-12. The leaders were Nicholas Baer, Jordan Bohannon and Tyler Cook. Baer graduated. Cook is turning pro. Bohannon is coming off hip surgery and may sit out this season. In addition, starting shooting guard Isaiah Moss has transferred to Kansas.
This is Wieskamp’s moment to lift the team he grew up cheering for.
He’s not shying away.
“My game’s going to have to progress a lot, even a little bit more quickly than I thought,” he said.
That’s certainly the expectation from Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, who made Wieskamp a priority target when he was not much older than the kids he’ll be teaching July 8-11 at his youth clinic.
“You look at him and say, ‘He’s a quiet kid. Can he lead?’” McCaffery said. “But I watched him lead in high school. He took that team to the state tournament, put them on his back. And those guys played hard and he was great with them.
“He’s a team guy. He’ll be a guy that, when he speaks in the locker room, people are going to listen to him.”
Wieskamp spent the spring getting feedback from NBA talent evaluators. He had workouts with the Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder before deciding to return to Iowa. He said it was an eye-opening process.
“Just realizing how much you have to get your body right to play at that level” was his biggest takeaway.
“I’ve just got to keep working hard, and maybe we’ll get there one day,” Wieskamp said of the NBA.
“That’s my goal. I’m not there yet. I’m excited to get back to Iowa, continue to work hard and help this team go as far as we can go.”
McCaffery noted that his previous two players that sought NBA feedback and returned — Peter Jok and Tyler Cook — were much better leaders as a result. He not only expects and needs that development from Wieskamp, but also much more production on the court, particularly in key moments.
“I expect him, as great as he was, to be better. He’s really in a good place physically. I think from a confidence standpoint, he knows what to expect," McCaffery said. "We put a tough schedule in front of him. We want to challenge him to be a guy that can help us, that can carry us. And I think he’s ready for that.
“He made big shots in big games. He’s got that makeup that I think enables him to be great early, right off the bat. And I think understanding now that he needs to take another step, which I think he will.”
Wieskamp shot 42.4 percent from the 3-point arc while also ranking second on the team in rebounds a year ago. He was named to the all-freshman team in the Big Ten Conference. He has a rare skill set that gives Iowa hope heading into a season marked by uncertainty elsewhere in the backcourt.
“I feel like I’m mentally and physically ready for this season,” Wieskamp said.
But first there’s that trip to Muscatine, one set up by Hawkeye director of operations Al Seibert, who is in charge of the basketball camps.
I think it’s a cool experience,” Wieskamp said. “Just to kind of give back to the community a little bit.
“Just give (the children) little tidbits of different things that some older guys told me when I was younger.”
And just like that, seemingly overnight, Wieskamp is one of those older guys.
Mark Emmert covers University of Iowa athletics for the Des Moines Register and Iowa City Press-Citizen.