Brown: Iowa's McCaffery bets big on the state's young talent
IOWA CITY, Ia. – Iowa's basketball program has received an in-state commitment from a member of the next four recruiting classes. That's not by accident.
Coach Fran McCaffery has made a concerted effort to identify home-state talent early in the recruiting process. The four pledges come from Dubuque, Muscatine and McCaffery's own living room.
Connor McCaffery, who will be a junior at Iowa City West, and his brother, Patrick, who will be a freshman, have both said they'll play for their dad. This week, Class of 2018 guard Joe Wieskamp of Muscatine said yes. Dubuque Wahlert forward Cordell Pemsl, Class of 2016, accepted the Hawkeyes' offer as a sophomore.
Forecasting how a prospect will develop years ahead of the growing curve can be a risky proposition.
"You've got to make sure you see them play, that you evaluate them thoroughly, and you feel good about your assessment," McCaffery said. "And then we go after them hard. We invite them to games, we get to know them, we watch them on the AAU circuit and the high school circuit, and we've been known to put those offers out early to make sure they know that we want them."
The Iowa program has had good success with early in-state offers. Dean Oliver and Ricky Davis committed before the start of their sophomore seasons. Oliver had an exceptional four-year career and made it to the NBA. Davis entered the NBA Draft after one season and was a first-round pick.
Jeff Horner said yes in April of his freshman year. Chris Street committed the summer before his junior season. If Pemsl, Wieskamp and the McCafferys turn into the college players Horner and Street were, the Iowa program will be in good hands.
McCaffery said he's more inclined to offer an in-state prospect earlier than others. And getting a step ahead in the recruiting game is never bad, especially in a small population state like Iowa where there's not a ton of prospects and some of them – most recently Marcus Paige and Harrison Barnes – leave the state.
"Sometimes a kid will develop later, so you have to be open-minded," McCaffery said. "Maybe he's not ready as a freshman. Maybe he's not ready until he's a junior. You want to make sure that when the offer is on the table, you're certain that he's a guy we want and can help us. You don't want there to be any in-between."
It's an inexact science. McCaffery offered Seth Bonifas of Dubuque Senior as a 14-year-old. Wisconsin was interested, too. So was Northern Iowa. Bonifas had a good career, but didn't develop the way those Division I programs thought he would. He signed with Missouri Western.
So yes, there's risk to go with reward. Pemsl had a second knee surgery in May, which is expected to keep him on the sidelines for at least six months.
Connor McCaffery was recently ranked 53rd on ESPN's top 60 players in the Class of 2017. He's taking part in the Nike Elite 100 camp at St. Louis University this weekend. He committed to the Hawkeyes before his sophomore season.
Wieskamp was ranked 16th, in ESPN's Top 25 players in the Class of 2018 released Thursday. Patrick McCaffery is already taller than Connor and was dunking in eighth grade games last season.
Meanwhile, McCaffery the coach is mining the state for more. Can a commitment from the Class of 2020 be far off?
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.