Connor McCaffery tunes out critics while leading his father's team

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

Connor McCaffery knows about the scrutiny. The social media criticism.

It comes with playing major-college basketball for a head coach who happens to be your father.

“I deleted Twitter. I got off social media,” McCaffery said Thursday. “I’m just focused on this team and what we’re doing.”

What McCaffery is doing is leading Iowa in assists with 38. The 6-foot-5 redshirt sophomore is moving around the court, not just playing point guard, in order to give Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes the best matchups in what is often a four-guard lineup.

“I know there’s a lot of hate,” Connor McCaffery said of being a starter on his dad’s team. “I just come out and play how I’ve been playing, play different positions and try to be the glue guy that plugs in and does whatever the team needs me to do.”

The Hawkeyes (6-2) open Big Ten Conference play at 5:30 p.m. Friday with a trip to face No. 5 Michigan (7-1). The game will be televised on FS1.

Fran McCaffery hopes to get starting shooting guard CJ Fredrick back. Fredrick missed Tuesday’s win at Syracuse with a bruised quadriceps. He was back at practice Thursday, though, and told reporters he felt better and was expecting to play.

Reserve forward Cordell Pemsl, who also missed Tuesday’s game with a back injury, has not practiced this week. His return for the Michigan game is doubtful.

What it all means is that an Iowa team that has been dealing with injuries and illnesses through its first eight games will need to lean on Connor McCaffery even more. He played a career-high 36 minutes against Syracuse, primarily on the wing.  He contributed five points and four assists without a turnover. His passing, and knowledge of his father’s offense, was paramount.

Just as it has been all season, in fact. McCaffery ranks fourth in the nation with 5.4 assists per turnover.

McCaffery, who has been studying film of his father’s teams since kindergarten, said he knows where all five players are supposed to be on every play. That’s what has enabled him to play both guard and both forward spots, depending on the situation.

Iowa guard Connor McCaffery (left), getting high-fives from teammates Ryan Kriener and Luka Garza during a game last month, ranks fourth in the nation with 5.4 assists per turnover.

“I have to know those spots to be able to successfully run what we want to run,” McCaffery said.

“I’ve kind of always been good at knowing the plays and picturing what we need to do. I learn them first at the point guard, so then, as the point guard, you have to know what every other spot does. Because you have to tell them what to do if they don’t know. So that’s kind of on me.”

McCaffery is vocal on the court. He plays with a physical edge, having committed a team-leading 20 fouls.

He’s been just what the Hawkeyes need after starting power forward Jack Nunge suffered a season-ending knee injury. That was after freshman forward Patrick McCaffery, Connor’s younger brother, was also sidelined by health issues.

That prompted Fran McCaffery to insert Jordan Bohannon into the starting lineup at guard, surrounding center Luka Garza with four smaller players and forcing opponents to adjust.

“It's kind of a different component. Different dimension. He can still feed Luka from the wing. He can make plays from there. He can score,” Fran McCaffery said of his son.

“As he got stronger and as the need presented itself, I knew I could move him there because he literally knows every position on the floor. Not only kind of where you're supposed to line up, but the nuances of what we're trying to accomplish, which is the key if you're running sets or out-of-bounds plays.”

Connor McCaffery said he spoke to former Creighton star Doug McDermott about what it was like to play for his father, Greg. He’s spoken to walk-ons who also competed on their father’s teams.

But McDermott was an all-American who is now in the NBA. Connor McCaffery isn’t that kind of star, but he’s no walk-on, either. ESPN ranked him the 92nd-best recruit in the nation when he was coming out of Iowa City West.

So McCaffery hasn’t been able to find the exact parallel when it comes to getting advice about how to handle fan criticism that comes simply because of your last name.

“I think every situation is different and I keep trying to adjust,” he said.

The adjustment has been easiest on the court.

“I can think about a play and know what (his teammates) have to do because I’ve seen it so much,” McCaffery said. “It’s just something that comes quicker to me.”

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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