McCaffery impressed by Iowa basketball captains’ leadership

Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said his team has stayed connected despite being away from each other for the past month.


Nichole Harris

Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery draws up plays during a timeout during a men’s basketball game between Iowa and Penn State on Saturday, Feb. 29 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes defeated the Nittany Lions 77-68.

Pete Ruden, Pregame Editor

There are only so many things student-athletes can do when they’re left by themselves without a season.

Options include going to a virtual class, working out, and playing video games. If the student-athlete is an Iowa basketball player, there’s an emphasis on all three.

Iowa men’s basketball head coach Fran McCaffery said he has been impressed with the ways his players have stayed in touch through the COVID-19 pandemic, even if it is just playing Fortnite together.

“I just think the only thing that can come out of it is if they stay together and stay connected,” McCaffery said. “The on-court stuff, that’ll take care of itself. But this is not how we’re used to living.

“They’re on the phones with each other, and sometimes they’ll all have the headphones on and they’re playing Fortnite with each other. Things like that, I think, is the critical thing. Because they all recognize what’s at stake. They all recognize the opportunity before us.”

That opportunity is a chance to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

If Luka Garza returns for his senior season, the Hawkeyes will return their entire starting lineup from 2019-20, plus the additions of Jordan Bohannon and Jack Nunge.

But to make a run in March, a team needs leadership. Iowa has that, McCaffery said.

The team’s captains — Garza, Bohannon, Connor McCaffery, and Joe Wieskamp — have played an integral role in bringing the team together in unique circumstances.

“They all talked about what they’re doing to motivate themselves, what they’ve been doing to motivate each other to be great and to stay connected,” McCaffery said. “It’s hard with the situation we’re in, but I’ve been really impressed with our leadership, and most importantly, each individual’s inner drive to be accomplishing great things during this period of time.”

Things get more complicated when freshmen are thrown into the mix.

Three of Iowa’s five incoming freshmen haven’t experienced life with the team yet. Only Kris and Keegan Murray, who are Cedar Rapids natives, have joined the team during open gym times and spent time with their new teammates.

The team hosts a Zoom meeting each week, which allows players to actually see each other. And they make a point to talk to the freshmen.

McCaffery said each captain takes three of his teammates and talks to them throughout the week. Then, they rotate groups so each captain can talk to the entire team in-depth.

The system allows them to stay focused on what’s coming up and keeps them on the same page.

The Hawkeyes are widely regarded as a preseason top-10 team. They know they have something special together.

Whether it’s texting, talking on the phone, meeting up on Zoom, or playing video games, the captains are making sure no one loses sight of what they want to accomplish.

“The drive that’s necessary has to come from the players,” McCaffery said. “I feel really good about the group that we have in terms of that area. This is a self-motivated group. They put the time in. They take care of their bodies. They live their life the right way. But I think most importantly, they’re connected as friends, as teammates, as competitors.

“Truthful, that’s when it’s fun to coach. Because when you have a group of guys that show up and work hard every day, and support each other, and challenge each other and try to get better and come back and do the same thing the next day, that’s when your team has success. When it’s disjointed and selfish and egotistical, then you don’t.”