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IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Register sat down with Iowa assistant coach Andrew Francis to discuss all things recruiting — 2019 signees, swings-and-misses, plans for 2020 and thoughts on much more.
We opened things with Patrick McCaffery, one of two 2019 Hawkeye signees and the son of head coach Fran McCaffery.
"Well, you know what? We had to work really hard to get Patrick here," Francis joked with the deadpan of a stand-up comic.
On Patrick McCaffery
Fans have been waiting for McCaffery to wear a Hawkeye jersey for a long time. He's a 6-foot-9 athlete with 3-point range, and he's seen as a potential all-Big Ten player who could lead the program to sustained prominence within the conference again.
Although he's as excited as anyone for McCaffery, Francis said it's too early to expect so much.
"To say that we expect more than (normal expectations for freshmen) without him playing a collegiate basketball game or even having a workout is a little premature," Francis said. "He obviously has a ton of talent. He’s skilled. He’s intelligent. Great basketball IQ. Can shoot the basketball, can handle, can pass.
"The expectation of the immediate impact is that he’s going to come in, work as hard as he can in the strength and conditioning program, work as hard as he can at skill development, continue to compete and battle for time and put himself in the best position to be out there playing."
Francis doesn't want to saddle McCaffery with a position, either.
"The whole goal is to be a basketball player. Forget about positions," he said. "Forget about what people think you should play. How do you impact the game? And I think (McCaffery) does a great job of impacting the game in multiple ways."
On Joe Toussaint
Francis said he likes to watch prospects early, and then re-evaluate six to eight months later to gauge development.
That's what happened with Toussaint.
He first watched the New York point guard after his sophomore year. Then, Francis watched him again this past offseason.
"I saw tremendous growth in him from when I saw him the previous season," Francis said. "And I had a good relationship with the AAU guys that he played for. We spoke. I made sure coach (McCaffery) got a chance to watch him. He liked him, and the process was rolling — even before that."
After missing on Bettendorf lefty D.J. Carton, Iowa wasn't going to offer a point guard just to get one. Coaches would only pursue a prospect if he could move the needle.
So, what about Toussaint moved the needle?
"He plays the game by looking two, three plays ahead," Francis said. "But the quickness factor, obviously, was something that we felt was going to move the needle for us. The quickness factor and being able to impact the ball on both ends — I think that was something we looked at and saw, 'OK, this guy can really come in and be a force, because he’s unique when you look at our team dynamic.' We don’t have anybody at the guard spot with that kind of quickness."
Is Iowa done recruiting for 2019?
All signs point to Tyler Cook leaving for the NBA after this season, which would open a 2019 scholarship if Iowa chooses to use it.
For now, though? The Hawkeyes are done in 2019. But ...
"You want to be prepared in case things change," Francis said.
What does that look like?
"You have guys that you have an eye on. You have guys that you stay connected to," Francis said. "I try to be very honest with guys and tell them exactly where we are, and I want to honestly know where they are and what they’re looking to do. So, if a kid tells me, 'You know what, Coach, I’m going to look to sign late. I’m going to see how the season goes. If you guys are still interested late (let me know).' And I tell him, 'Absolutely. I’d love to support you and track you and see where we are in the spring.' With recruiting, you just never know."
Plans for the 2020 class
Before this season, Iowa's 2020 class projected to have six open slots.
Francis said C.J. Fredrick and Jack Nunge redshirting, and Cordell Pemsl likely receiving a medical redshirt, eases a bit of the pressure in filling the 2020 group.
Still, he said it will be an important class. These recruits will fill the spots taken by Jordan Bohannon, Maishe Dailey, Isaiah Moss, Ryan Kriener and Tyler Cook (if his slot isn't filled in 2019).
"We’re entering 2020 like we entered 2019," Francis said. "It’s a big class, in the sense that we want to make sure we get some guys that can be impactful guys — guys that obviously can continue to push our program forward in the right direction. We’ll be losing some key guys, obviously."
How will Iowa try to retain elite in-state talent?
Coaches can't publicly comment on high school prospects until they've signed their National Letter of Intent. But Francis did talk about Iowa's approach with elite in-state talent.
"The approach is to consistently be who we are," he said. "Formulate those relationships early on. I think the in-state guys have come to know us and continue to get to know us, have been on campus before and I think they see the quality of who we are as people, first and foremost. I think the quality of the university speaks for itself.
"And the basketball program, despite having a year that we didn't expect last year, we own it, we move forward. We got stronger from it."
Did a disappointing 2018 season affect 2019 recruiting?
Francis said losing obviously doesn't help recruiting, and success — especially on a national stage — obviously helps it.
"What’s driving a lot of high-profile guys is the NBA. And when you look at the stage that a lot of guys want to play on, it’s that stage in March. So it all kind of goes hand-in-hand," he said. "People want to be attached to and associated with winning. So, when you lose, people don’t want to be attached to that. But I think, overall, I think people saw the value in who we are. And I think we built up some equity with recruits. We lost on a couple high-profile guys, obviously. But we’re going to keep swinging away."
On missing on D.J. Carton
Francis was the point man with Carton's recruitment. He said the five-star point guard, who has signed his NLI with Ohio State, is a tremendous talent and a good kid.
He thinks Carton simply made the decision that was best for him.
"What we tried to do was make it very clear what we thought about him, where we viewed him and where he stood in our eyes when it comes to his value to our program and us," Francis said. "He was respectful. Great family, good people. And he went through the process and he walked his path, and I respect him for it."
While recruiting Carton, Iowa had to balance showing him he was a priority ... while also keeping an eye on other point guards in case Carton committed elsewhere.
"You try to be honest with guys," Francis. "You show them that respect and you hope to get the same thing in return."
On NCAA rule changes
Before NCAA rule changes, Division I coaches had five evaluation periods in which they could go watch high school prospects at various AAU tournaments — two in April and three in July.
Now, there are only two evaluation periods that allow coaches to go watch AAU ball — one in April and one in July.
"I’ve just got to see how that unfolds, man. It’s hard to say right now. You just don't know," Francis said. "It’s experimental because it hasn't been done before. Cutting back on some days in July and having those weekends in June (at non-AAU events) — I’m just going to be curious to see how it all goes down. It’s going to be the trial run. You’ve got to do your work throughout the year — make sure you get to games, make sure you get to practices."
What is Francis' favorite part of recruiting?
"The relationships that you build with guys," he said. "The relationships that you build with the families, with the parents, with really good AAU guys that understand what it’s about and really go about their business in a very matter-of-fact, direct, humbled way. Those are the things that fuel what we do, because this is a people business. It’s a relationship business. You’ve got to value that stuff, man. And I value it."
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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_.