Iowa basketball hires Billy Taylor's replacement, plus more offseason takeaways
IOWA CITY — On Thursday night, Iowa's men's basketball program took a moment to celebrate the 2021-22 team at its annual awards banquet. But naturally, many in the program were already looking ahead to next year.
Now more than ever, there truly isn't an offseason in Division I basketball. With all the player mobility via the NBA Draft or transfer portal, the Hawkeyes are in full swing preparing for next year. For the players who know they'll return next season, their offseason so far has mainly been spent in gyms.
"I really didn't take any time off," senior center Filip Rebraca said. "I've taken maybe one or two days off but I've been playing basketball. I've been playing at the (University of Iowa recreation center), private runs at Court 45 in North Liberty, so I'm playing with pros, other college basketball players. I think it's been going well for however long we've been out of season."
Iowa received good news on Thursday when senior Connor McCaffery announced that he's returning for a sixth season of eligibility. With his return, the Hawkeyes are up to 10 scholarship players for next season, including incoming freshmen Dasonte Bowen and Josh Dix (and assuming Kris Murray returns next season).
Head coach Fran McCaffery and select players met with reporters on Thursday before their team awards banquet. Here are four takeaways:
Iowa will promote Courtney Eldridge to replace Billy Taylor
One week ago, Iowa men's basketball assistant Billy Taylor accepted the head coaching position at Elon. Fran McCaffery wasn't surprised. In fact, he was expecting to lose Taylor one year prior.
"I thought it was going to happen last year," McCaffery said. "I was glad he came back and he helped us win a championship. Thrilled for Billy. He deserves it. He's ready. I talked to him today and he's excited."
McCaffery confirmed that he's replacing Taylor from within. It's pending approval but he's hiring director of recruiting and player development Courtney Eldridge as Taylor's replacement.
"That's the plan," McCaffery said. "It's pending approval but we plan on promoting Courtney."
That leaves the director of recruiting and player development position open. McCaffery said that they'll "move a little slower" in filling that role.
Hawkeyes have narrow focus in transfer portal
McCaffery also took a brief minute to talk about potential transfers. The Hawkeyes have had three departures via the portal so far this offseason: guards Austin Ash and Joe Toussaint and center Josh Ogundele.
As far as additions, McCaffery said on Thursday that their focus is bringing in front-court players.
"We need size," McCaffery said. "Going for some size if we can find it. That's pretty much it."
Per Matthew Bain of the Register, as of Thursday morning, Iowa hadn't locked in an official visit with priority big man Fardaws Aimaq of Utah Valley yet but there's hope that it will be scheduled soon. Aimaq is arguably the most coveted post player in the transfer portal; his top five schools are Iowa, Gonzaga, Texas, Texas Tech and Washington.
Tony Perkins has had a busy offseason
Iowa's season ended unexpectedly when it fell to Richmond in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Sophomore guard Tony Perkins said it didn't feel real when it happened but it provided motivation for the offseason.
"It didn't feel like our season was over," Perkins said. "But with it being over, it really hit me, like next year I don't want the season to end like this; I want to go farther. So it's on me to improve on the things I lack on and improve my teammates' confidence or whatever the case is."
Perkins said he was back in the gym less than 24 hours after the Richmond game. So far this offseason, he's done a large amount of weight lifting and rehabbing his shoulder. On the court, he's working to improve his 3-point shooting as he'll be a bigger fixture in Iowa's offense next year. Aside from his on-court development goals, Perkins also sees an opportunity to step up as a team leader with key pieces leaving the program.
"Becoming more of a leader this year," Perkins said. "In high school, I was a leader during my junior and senior year and the team was pretty good. In the offseason, I just want to build better connections with the team so we can continue this road I'm going on. For me, just keep playing the way I'm playing and working on my craft all day, every day."
Fran McCaffery comments on Kris Murray
It's been almost two weeks since sophomore Kris Murray entered his name into the 2022 NBA Draft. Per his father Kenyon Murray, Kris and twin brother Keegan Murray are training in Chicago and recently moved into housing. The brothers were at the banquet on Thursday and will fly back to resume training on Friday.
Kris Murray retained his college eligibility by not hiring an agent and a return to Iowa next season is likely. McCaffery isn't new to players testing NBA waters before returning to school and sees Murray benefitting from this decision long-term.
"I think it exposes you to what the process is," McCaffery said. "Part of it is workouts, part of it is interviews — just getting a handle on what they're looking for. He's a guy who's going to do well in those situations.
"I'd be excited for him to come back. He took an unbelievable step last year. We saw that and I think he's ready to take another one. Kind of like his brother."
Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at email@example.com.