'He's a tireless worker': Iowa basketball assistant Courtney Eldridge up for new challenge
Iowa men's basketball coach Fran McCaffery was in a new situation this off-season.
Two of his top assistant coaches, Billy Taylor (now head coach at Elon) and Kirk Speraw (retirement) left the program. For the first time, McCaffery has to replace two coaches in one off-season.
Speraw's replacement is to be determined. McCaffery hired Taylor's replacement from within, promoting Courtney Eldridge. Eldridge has been on the Hawkeyes’ staff the past six seasons, serving as the program’s video coordinator from 2017-19 and director of recruiting and player development the last three years. Eldridge played for McCaffery at UNC-Greensboro.
“I have had a relationship with Courtney for a long time,” McCaffery said when Eldridge was hired on April 25. “He played for me at UNCG, has been on my staff, and has a great relationship with our players. He is a tireless worker who has tremendous character and experience that will benefit our program.”
Eldridge, 41, is the least experienced assistant during McCaffery's tenure, with no previous collegiate coaching experience. When he met with reporters for the first time last week, he addressed that point.
"I've always had something to prove every time going out on the floor (as a player)," Eldridge said. "It's something I continue to this day, I have a chip on my shoulder. I know I don't have the best resume that some other coaches might have. But I think my 12 years of (professional playing) experience is very valuable.
"I'm able to relate to our guys and build relationships with guys from all over the country and the world, for that matter. Those are some of the skills I've been able to bring with me and continue to hone in on. I hope to be a head coach one day."
Eldridge touched on a number of other topics in his introductory news conference last week. Here are three takeaways:
Rising through Iowa basketball's coaching ranks will help Eldridge
Eldridge has been a valued member of the support staff as a video coordinator and director of recruiting and player development. As a coordinator, he logged hours of game film from opposing teams for Iowa coaches and players to use for scouting and game preparation.
"I was able to look at trends and common things among teams and coaches (in the Big Ten)," Eldridge said. "Going forward that'll help in opposing scouting tremendously. Those hours spent in the video room, I can't put a price tag on how important it was to get in on that level and study."
Eldridge was promoted in 2020, the same year that the COVID-19 pandemic began. But the pandemic provided a unique opportunity as a support staff member. The NCAA allowed for two non-coaching staff members to assist in on-court instruction, which benefited Eldridge. Combined with his actual job, he gained coaching experience with Iowa's current players while building relationships in recruiting with future players.
Then there's the amount of time he spent around four former or current head coaches who were on Iowa's staff. The assistant who impacted him the most is the man he's replacing: Billy Taylor. The two have a longstanding relationship as Taylor coached Eldridge at UNCG as a McCaffery assistant.
"He was probably the coach that I had the best connection with (at UNCG)," Eldridge said. "Upon him coming back to Iowa three years ago, we kind of leaned on each other. Our common goal was just making sure we're doing things that coach (McCaffery doesn't) have to worry about. He's been a great sounding board for me throughout my playing career and in the last six years since I've transitioned into becoming a coach."
Eldridge shed light on Josh Ogundele
Eldridge has a close relationship with sophomore center Josh Ogundele. A London native, Ogundele was recruited to Iowa out of Massachusetts as a high school prospect, with Eldridge serving as one of his lead recruiters.
Ogundele entered the transfer portal this spring but returned to the program after a month-long stint. Eldridge believes the relationships built at Iowa were crucial in Ogundele's decision to remain in Iowa City.
"Josh and I have a really good relationship; we played for the same AAU coach and team," Eldridge said. "It's about building relationships. He has other schools calling him but they don't love him like I do, you know? So it's really hard to recruit out of the transfer portal.
"You meet a guy and you want to talk and then it's 'Boom, can you come on campus tomorrow?' There's no relationship. Josh knows we care about him here. We didn't want him to leave in the first place, and I think he felt that and it was one of the reasons why he came back."
Because Iowa hasn't gotten a new transfer yet, the team will have the same three scholarship centers from last year in Ogundele, freshman Riley Mulvey and senior Filip Rebraca. Eldridge said he believes Ogundele sees an opportunity to develop. The Hawkeyes still have a need for a consistent, big-body presence, and that could be Ogundele if he takes a step forward.
Eldridge gives his thoughts on the NCAA transfer portal
Of all the Iowa coaches, Eldridge said he probably dives "a little bit deeper" than the others in terms of checking to see who's available in the transfer portal. This off-season hasn't been kind to the Hawkeyes as they've missed on targets (particularly big men) to other schools.
Eldridge likened the transfer portal to speed dating. The number of players looking for schools and vice versa combined with the quick-moving decisions can make it difficult to find the right fit. You also have players looking to cash in on name-image-likeness (NIL) opportunities. Iowa doesn't have an NIL collective in place yet, which makes it more challenging to land those players.
"It's hard to really know who you're recruiting and if they're a good fit," Eldridge said. "It's easy to look at numbers and say he averaged x, y and z, let's just get him. You still have to factor in who you have on your current roster, playing time, et cetera."
Though unlikely, Eldridge didn't close the door on additions to the 2022-23 roster. The deadline for underclassmen in the NBA Draft process is June 1 and there could be a prospect who returns to college and is in the portal that could be a fit.
"We're not done by any means," Eldridge said. "There's a June 1 deadline so there'll be guys trickling back into college. We'll look and do our due diligence and see if there's someone who can help our team. And if not, I like the team that we have and we'll go to war with who wants to be here next year."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.