Iowa's Fran McCaffery talks Clemmons swagger, Uhl upside

Rick Brown

Iowa's basketball program is in a much better place than it was when coach Fran McCaffery took over in the spring of 2010.

But now, after the first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2006, comes a different challenge. Is this a program that reloads or rebuilds?

The Big Ten's top programs keep rolling season after season, making up for the loss of star players with a new wave of talent. No one-hit, flash-in-the-pan wonders here.

In 2014-15, we'll find out if McCaffery's rejuvenated program has staying power.

Despite the hangover that lingers from losing seven of the last eight games last season, there's enough talent on this roster to keep on winning. A non-conference schedule that includes North Carolina, Texas, Iowa State, Northern Iowa and Syracuse or California will test them under fire.

The Big Ten schedule will be released Thursday.

"Collectively, it's going to better prepare us for what is going to be the most difficult season in the Big Ten since I've been in the league," McCaffery said during an interview with the Des Moines Register this week.

Gone are Devyn Marble, Melsahn Basabe and Zach McCabe, representing 409 games, 244 starts and 3,684 points. Basabe and McCabe combined for 1,261 rebounds. Next man in.

"Someone's got to step up,"McCaffery said.

It will start with the guard court, where a forgotten player named Anthony Clemmons and a newcomer named Brady Ellingson could emerge.

"Our guards have to step up," McCaffery said.

Junior Mike Gesell will play both point and off-guard. Senior Josh Oglesby is strictly a shooting guard. Junior college import Trey Dickerson, a sophomore, is strictly a point guard. Sophomore Peter Jok will spend his time at shooting guard.

The player to keep an eye on is Clemmons, a junior swing guard. After a promising freshman season he had a sophomore slump. He played 638 minutes as a freshman, 363 as a sophomore.

"He didn't play with any swagger, and he had incredible swagger as a freshman," McCaffery said. "That was baffling to all of us, including him. I think you'll see him much better than he was as a freshman."

Ellingson, who didn't play this summer after foot surgery, might be redshirted. But his ability to shoot, something Iowa has lacked on a consistent basis in recent seasons, could change that.

"I know this, he's one of the best shooters I've ever recruited," McCaffery said. "So you're not always quick to redshirt guys who can make 3s."

In the frontcourt, look for junior Adam Woodbury and senior Gabe Olaseni to play together more than they have in the past. Those two, plus senior Aaron White, junior Jarrod Uthoff and incoming freshman Dominique Uhl, will get the frontline minutes.

White, a senior, has parlayed a surprising freshman season into a solid career. He needs to take his game to another level. The 6-foot-9 Uhl could have a White-like rookie season.

"All he needs is an opportunity, and he's going to get that opportunity," McCaffery said. "He'll have a chance to play through some of his mistakes and get comfortable, because I'm going to play him. We need him to play. He deserves to play."

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery and guard Anthony Clemmons poised for good season in 2014-15.

Uthoff should be a more productive player with extended minutes. The rust from two seasons of inactivity should be gone.

"That's a lot harder than anyone thinks," McCaffery said. "He could have gone to a different place and had an easier time. He didn't. He wanted to play at the highest level. I respect him for that."

The pieces are there for another strong season, and a chance to prove that Iowa is more than yesterday's news.

Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.