Sizing up Iowa's point guard options: Bakari Evelyn, Connor McCaffery, Joe Toussaint
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Fran McCaffery wasn’t expecting to have a new starting backcourt on his 2019-20 Iowa men’s basketball team.
But that’s certainly a strong possibility after shooting guard Isaiah Moss transferred to Kansas and point guard Jordan Bohannon had hip surgery May 22. Bohannon may or may not be able to start for a fourth consecutive season.
That’s immaterial to McCaffery when it comes to expectations for his Hawkeyes, however. Entering his 10th season at the helm, McCaffery was as blunt as ever at the team’s media day Wednesday: “We have the makeup of a team that can contend in this league (Big Ten Conference) and contend on a national level.”
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If so, there’s no question that the trio of Bakari Evelyn, Connor McCaffery and Joe Toussaint will have to give Iowa excellent play at the point guard spot. Evelyn is a graduate transfer from Valparaiso. Toussaint is a true freshman. Both got a lot of attention from reporters at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Wednesday, and rightfully so.
McCaffery wasn’t able to meet with the media. He was across the street playing outfield for the Hawkeye baseball team, which had a game pushed ahead two days because of weather concerns.
These are three players with widely contrasting styles of play. Each needs to contribute in his own way. Here’s what we learned about them, one month ahead of Iowa’s season-opener vs. Southern Illinois-Edwardsville:
The well-traveled veteran
Evelyn is a native of Detroit, who arrived at Iowa this summer after stops at Nebraska and Valparaiso. He started 46 games for the Crusaders, who compete in the Missouri Valley Conference. He had a much better sophomore campaign than his junior year, when he was limited by an ankle injury. Evelyn averaged 12.6 points, on 38% 3-point shooting, in his first year at Valparaiso. Last season, those numbers dipped to 8.4 and 31.
Still, he’s the most likely of the trio of point guards to be able to replace Bohannon’s long-range shooting prowess. At 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, he’s been playing both guard spots in practice.
“I think my play-making is what’s most unique,” Evelyn said Wednesday. “I feel like I can create for myself pretty well.”
Evelyn had 161 assists and 152 turnovers at Valparaiso. That’s not a great ratio for a point guard. So it’s conceivable he sees more time at the “2” for Iowa, assuming McCaffery and Toussaint can handle the “1.”
Evelyn has been asked to be a leader at Iowa despite just arriving. And that’s a role he’s filling well. Toussaint, a New York native who doesn’t have a car here because he doesn’t want to hassle with trying to find a parking spot, said Evelyn has become kind of a personal chauffeur, driving him to practices or to get meals. Toussaint has enjoyed picking the brain of his more experienced counterpart.
“He’s like a scoring point guard,” Toussaint said of Evelyn. “He can really score the ball from everywhere.”
For Evelyn, ending up at Iowa seems fitting. He said he learned last season that the Hawkeye team “was a group that fights,” pointing to an overtime loss to Tennessee in the second round of the NCAA Tournament after trailing by 25 points.
“I think that’s kind of how my journey has been. Definitely been a lot of adversity,” Evelyn said. “But I feel like I’ve fought and persevered throughout it, and so I think I fit right in with the culture.”
The coach's son with the high IQ
“Connor is kind of like the old man, very poised, makes the right decisions all the time,” Evelyn said of McCaffery.
That’s a compliment.
At 6-5 and 205 pounds, McCaffery likes to back down defenders, to get into the lane where he can use his left hand to bank shots off the glass or draw fouls. The redshirt sophomore averaged 4.4 points and three assists last year, knocking down 75 percent of his free throws.
Fran McCaffery said his eldest son has the size that will enable him to see some time at small forward this year as well as point guard.
“Connor is really tough,” Toussaint said. “He’s not really my style of guard. He’s a slow, body-bumping, strong, very smart IQ. He can shoot the ball. He’s the opposite of me. But I can learn a lot from him. Just changing up my speed.”
McCaffery will probably get the first crack at replacing in the starting lineup for the season-opener.
The flashy newcomer from New York
Toussaint grew up hooping in big-city playgrounds. If you didn’t play defense, he said, you were kicked off the court.
It was a lesson he learned well, at age 12.
“A lot of kids these days don’t play defense,” said Toussaint, who turned 19 on Sunday.
Toussaint’s biggest attribute is his speed. At 6-foot and 185 pounds, he loves to push the pace.
“Joe is explosive, lightning-fast, push the ball, get in the paint at will,” Evelyn said.
Iowa center Luka Garza, a junior, is excited to see what that can mean for the Hawkeyes. He said it’s a style of point guard he hasn’t seen here in his previous two seasons.
“How aggressive he is defensively. That New York type of point guard that I loved playing with growing up on the East Coast (Garza is from Washington, D.C),” he said. “You want guys from New York on your team, for sure.”
Toussaint has had the toughest adjustment of Iowa’s newcomers, Fran McCaffery said, just because it’s his first year of college basketball and it’s an entirely new set of teammates.
But Toussaint doesn’t lack confidence.
“You’re just going to see a bunch of playmaking. Just making big-time decisions,” he said of his style of play. “On the drive. Off screens. Shooting the ball.”
Shooting the ball? That hasn’t been Toussaint’s reputation, although he did average 22.5 points last winter at Cardinal Hayes High School
“I’m a spot-up shooter,” Toussaint confirmed. “Soon to come.”
Toussaint is the tantalizing unknown in this group of point guards. He’s wearing No. 1 in his Hawkeye rookie season. Perhaps it’ll be his position by the end of it.
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.
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