IOWA CITY, Ia. — This offseason has been a change of pace for Iowa recruit Patrick McCaffery.
He isn’t the biggest star of his grassroots basketball team anymore. Instead, he plays alongside five-star Matthew Hurt and fellow four-stars Zeke Nnaji, Tyrell Terry and Tyler Wahl on a loaded D1Minnesota roster.
Back home in Iowa City, the headlines normally saved for the son of Iowa coach Fran McCaffery have gone to five-star point guard D.J. Carton.
So, for the first time in a long time, Patrick McCaffery is living life largely out of the recruiting spotlight.
But his goals haven’t changed.
Quietly, he’s still focused on convincing blue-chip talents like Keion Brooks, Trayce Jackson-Davis and Malik Hall to play for the Hawkeyes with him.
"There’s pressure for me to try to do more because that’s what I’ve always done. The less pressure added, the more pressure there is — if that makes any sense," McCaffery said. "That will always be the case with me. I think there’s still pressure on me to be the player I’m supposed to be."
Trayce Jackson-Davis, Center Grove High School, a member of the IndyStar High School boys Super Team. Matt Kryger/IndyStar
McCaffery showcased his full set of improved skills with Iowa City West at last month’s Justin Sharp Memorial Shootout in Rock Island.
During West’s second game versus Davenport Central, McCaffery caught a pass on the perimeter and called for a screen. He angled right, dribble-weaved his way through defenders and rose up for a one-handed flush.
It was an impressive display from a 6-foot-8 forward, and it showcased the qualities — court vision and good handles — that make West head coach Steve Bergman project McCaffery at point guard through center next season.
But his role is different with D1Minnesota.
"It’s pretty nice to be able to throw the ball to whoever on D1 and get an assist," McCaffery laughed. "Just throw it to Matthew (Hurt) and he’ll score."
Hurt, a top-five recruit drawing heavy pursuit from Duke and North Carolina, is the main post presence for D1Minnesota, along with Hawkeye target Nnaji.
McCaffery mainly plays point guard, shooting guard and small forward along with Wahl.
D1Minnesota coach Jay Fuhrmann said the versatility McCaffery is developing while playing with elite midwestern recruits will prepare him for more minutes at small forward, the position he believes McCaffery will primarily play in college.
"At the collegiate level, he could guard a 1 through a 4 and still be able to defend a 5 depending on the team," Fuhrmann said. "He knows angles so well. You can tell he’s a coach’s son. He knows angles and he gets his wingspan out there. He’s just so intelligent as a defender. His defense is underrated — whether it’s on-ball or coming from the help side to block a shot."
Playing more on the wing means McCaffery will have to knock down more 3-pointers, and he knows it. He said his long-range shot has been one of his main focuses this offseason — along with the consistent No. 1 goal of bulking up. (He’s up to 180 pounds now, by the way.)
McCaffery shot 34 percent from beyond the arc as a sophomore before dipping to 26 percent last year.
Fuhrmann said McCaffery just needs to develop a quicker release and "let it fly," because the mechanics are there. His arc and ball rotation look good, too.
"If he can get that percentage up to the 40 percent range, man, he’s going to be lethal," Fuhrmann said. "He’s got all the tools to do that. I’m expecting, in July, to see that 3-point shot succeed."
This spring, McCaffery was named to the Team USA 3-on-3 basketball roster for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in October.
In June, he was invited to the NBPA Top 100 Camp for the second consecutive year. He tried out for the Under-18 National Team, too.
And with D1Minnesota, Fuhrmann said McCaffery has become the vocal and emotional leader of a team that'd gone 25-1 entering July’s evaluation periods.
Still, McCaffery has dropped in national recruiting rankings. The latest numbers have him down to No. 81 in 247Sports, No. 51 in Rivals and No. 50 in ESPN. It wasn’t long ago that he was right around the top 30, approaching serious McDonald’s All-American consideration.
Playing with D1Minnesota could be having an impact. Before, with the Iowa Barnstormers, McCaffery was the big-ticket item. He was able to leave his footprint on many more aspects of the game than he does with D1Minnesota.
But McCaffery isn't batting an eye.
"When I was ranked really high, it didn't really matter to me," he said. "And now that I’m dropping a bit, it still doesn't mean much to me. It’s never affected me. I’m still going to Iowa. I’m going where I want to go.
"No number could ever define me."
After D1Minnesota concludes its summer season, McCaffery will return to West. He and Even Brauns, the Register’s No. 2 in-state 2020 prospect, will look to lead the Trojans back to the Class 4A state title game.
McCaffery began to hone his leadership skills last year, but he’ll be the unquestioned leader as a senior this season.
"From practice one, game one, he brought an element of leadership to this team that we needed — a vocal leader," Fuhrmann said. "It’s infectious. I don't think a lot of people see that. You generally just see what’s going on on the court. Like making the extra pass becomes infectious, those leadership qualities become infectious. And that’s what creates that team environment."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.