Iowa men’s basketball senior Connor McCaffery prepped for sixth season on the court

The former two-sport athlete stepped away from the diamond after the 2021 baseball season to solely focus on basketball.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa guard Connor McCaffery jokes with an official at halftime during a men’s basketball game between Iowa and Penn State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022. The Hawkeyes defeated the Nittany Lions, 68-51.

Grant Hall, Sports Reporter

In the midst of last year’s grueling Iowa men’s basketball schedule, Connor McCaffery was convinced he wouldn’t return for a sixth year.

“I was pretty sure at one point [last season] that I was not going to come back,” the 6-foot-6, 215-pounder said at Iowa Men’s Basketball Media Day on Oct. 5. “Last year wasn’t a comfortable year for me. I was hurt a good amount of the time, I couldn’t ever practice, there were days when I couldn’t bend over. My back was so bad, I had to have someone else tie my shoes for me.”

In the end, the opportunity to spend another year making memories with family, friends, and members of the Iowa men’s basketball program outweighed the potential drawbacks of another year of student-athlete life.

“I knew I was really going to regret it if I didn’t come back,” Connor said. “If I had seen the team doing well, and I was missing out on celebrating with my brother, my friends, my dad, or whatever, or if the team wasn’t doing well, and I wasn’t around to try to turn it around, there would be regret there, too.”

The 24-year-old combo guard averaged 2.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, and roughly two assists per game for the Hawkeyes a season ago. More important than his statistical output, however, is his leadership within the program. 

The oldest of Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery’s three sons has implemented the knowledge he’s gleaned from five years in the Hawkeye program. Connor has also spent his entire life, on and off the court, learning from his dad — who is now entering his 13th year as Iowa’s head coach.

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“I want to continue [being vocal on the floor] and then some,” Connor said. “I want to take another step. The number one thing is I want to win, and that is beyond anything else. I want to make a run in this year’s tournament, I want to win another [Big Ten] championship, and I want to help my teammates.”

Since he enrolled at Iowa in fall 2017, Connor has been a two-sport athlete participating in baseball and basketball. This offseason, he stepped away from the diamond to focus on hoops.

The Iowa City West High School alum said the decision to forgo a sixth year on Duane Banks Field has given him ample opportunity to improve his body and skill set heading into his final basketball season. Now that he doesn’t have to use his hands for hitting a baseball, he feels more comfortable with passing, handling the ball, and shooting.

“I really miss baseball, but I’ve really been able to just focus on basketball, which is something I’ve never done in my life … I feel like I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in,” Connor said. “One thing that had always kind of faded [in past seasons] was my ball handling because hitting the baseball gets different parts of your hands crushed, and then your hand will be sore for three or four days after.”

Fran said Connor has shown more confidence on the offensive side of the ball with more time dedicated to basketball.

“It’s been a dramatic difference for him,” Fran said. “All summer long, he’s been on the court, so he’s in more basketball shape, which helps when you’re playing more than one position. He’s been way more aggressive offensively, shooting the ball really well, because he’s more comfortable.”

At this point, Connor knows the Hawkeyes’ system backward and forward. Sometimes, he even steps in and corrects his father during practice.

“When we’re putting in plays, if [Fran] misspeaks, I know it and I’ll be like, ‘No.’” Connor said. “Yesterday, we were setting up a counter and he changed the subtlety of the play call and I was like, ‘No, no, no, that’s the other one.’ That happens a decent amount of the time, where I’ll try to speak up for him a little bit.”