Hawkeye recruiting mailbag: Will D.J. Carton be Tyler Ulis all over again for Iowa?

Matthew Bain
Hawk Central

The sun is finally out and this Southern California guy is ecstatic.

Kentucky Wildcats guard Tyler Ulis (3) celebrates with teammates after they defeated the Texas A&M Aggies in the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament championship game at Bridgestone Arena, Sunday, March 13, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn.

I swear I'm getting used to the winters, and I've honestly found joy in bundling up and watching the snow fall from the inside of a warm coffee shop. It's awesome.


My flip-flops have just been waiting for me — teasing me — on my shoe rack for the past six months. Same with my shorts in my closet. Soon they'll become part of Iowans' everyday outfits again, and that makes me a happy camper.

That also means we're at the point in spring where basketball and football recruiting hit full force at the same time. So let's get to your questions.

This is a really, really good question.

As a reminder to those who might not be aware: Current Phoenix Suns point guard Tyler Ulis, a five-star recruit out of Marian Catholic in Chicago Heights, picked Kentucky over Michigan State and Iowa in September of 2013. It was a heartbreaker for the Hawkeyes, who were painfully close to beating out blue-bloods for a blue-chip player. And it sounds like Iowa came in third — in 2015, Ulis told The Gazette that Michigan State would've been his second choice.

OK. There's your background.

I've seen plenty of Hawkeye chatter on Twitter that compares Ulis to D.J. Carton, the four-star point guard out of Bettendorf that is rapidly becoming a national prospect with five-star potential. He just picked up offers from USC and St. John's, so the laundry list of schools pursuing him now spans 2,800 miles from Los Angeles to New York City.

Obviously, I can't say if Carton's recruitment will play out the same way Ulis' did. There are similarities:

  • Like Ulis, Carton is an elite point guard from the Midwest and he would likely end up as Iowa's highest-rated recruit ever.
  • Like Ulis, Carton is attracting attention from some of the best programs in the country, and certainly the best in the Midwest.
  • Like Ulis, Carton has Iowa as a strong contender ... among other strong contenders.
  • Like Ulis, Carton plans to commit to a school early in his senior year, after he racks up more offers this summer.
  • And like they did with Ulis, the Hawkeyes identified Carton early and recruited him early.

But there are also some definite differences between Ulis and Carton. Some are good signs for Iowa fans. Some aren't.

Let's review the good signs for Iowa fans first:

Carton has intrinsic ties to Iowa. He's an in-state kid from the Quad Cities, just an hour away from Iowa's campus, whereas Ulis is from Ohio and played high school ball in the Chicagoland area. Also, Carton's grandfather, Gene Meeker, played for the Hawkeyes in the 1950s.

The Hawkeyes have a clear need at point guard for the 2019 class, and they're selling that hard to Carton. With Ulis, however, they already had Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons on the roster. Of course, Iowa pulled out all the stops to land Ulis, but there's no denying the lack of need at Ulis' position could have played a role.

Now for the not-so-good signs for Iowa fans:

Carton is blowing up earlier than Ulis did. Ulis wound up a five-star recruit ranked 19th in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite. But entering the evaluation periods after his junior year, 247Sports assigned Ulis an 87 rating. At the same point in his recruitment, Carton is currently rated a 96 by 247Sports. With the way he's played so far this offseason, there's a very good chance Carton cracks the country's top 25 and reaches five-star status before the second set of evaluation periods in July.

That means there's a chance some blue-blood power could swoop in late. The Wildcats didn't offer Ulis until the August before his senior year; he committed a month later.


Long story short: Carton and Ulis' recruitments are certainly comparable, but there are too many differences to confidently say they'll play out the same way.

Recruiting often works like a domino effect, though. Pac-12 and Big East schools will now take more serious looks at Carton because USC and St. John's have offered. I also think a Virginia offer isn't too far down the line. The Cavaliers have been looking at Carton for a while; I remember him telling me about that way back in November. 

If Iowa can get Carton, that would be a major, major victory.

Iowa assistant coach Andrew Francis has been connected to the Siena head coach opening for a while now, and recent reports state that he is a candidate.

Francis makes a lot of sense for the job: He coached there with Fran McCaffery for three years, during which Siena won three straight conference titles. He's a Brooklyn guy who knows the school and the area very well. He's a proven recruiter and well-respected in coaching circles. His former boss, Villanova head coach Jay Wright, called him a "superstar."

Now, if Francis gets the Siena job and leaves Iowa, the Hawkeyes won't lose a shot at landing some of their top recruits.

But I'd be lying if I said their chances wouldn't take a hit.

Francis has done a great job in the 2019 class with identifying elite talent early and creating a relationship that will give Iowa a chance with some of the country's best talent. He's done that with five-star small forward Keion Brooks and four-star power-forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, both top-30 guys from Indiana that Iowa has a real chance to land.

Iowa assistant coaches Kirk Speraw, from left, Andrew Francis and Sherman Dillard watch the Hawkeyes face Purdue at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2015

He's the point man with Carton, although that recruitment has reached the stage where Fran McCaffery is heavily involved. Similar story with Brooks and Jackson-Davis. Francis is also the point man with Minneapolis point guard Tyrell Terry, Iowa's likely No. 2 point guard option whose stock is starting to skyrocket this offseason.

Of course, Francis isn't the only coach involved in Iowa recruiting. Sherman Dillard and Kirk Speraw are key pieces in the machine, too. Dillard is the point man for Des Moines North point guard Tyreke Locure and Columbus small forward Jordan Mitchell. 

But, yes, Iowa's 2019 recruitment — particularly with its high-end targets — could hit a speed bump if Francis becomes head coach at Siena.

Matthew Bain covers college football and basketball recruiting for the Des Moines Register. He also helps out with Iowa and Iowa State football and basketball coverage for HawkCentral and Cyclone Insider. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.