Iowa men’s basketball sixth year forward Connor McCaffery embracing coach-on-the-floor role

While coming off the bench for the second straight season, McCaffery says he is playing the best offensive basketball of his career.


Matt Sindt

Iowa guard Connor McCaffery moves with the ball during a basketball game between Iowa and Georgia Tech at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. The Hawkeyes defeated the Yellow Jackets 81-65.

Chris Werner, Assistant Sports Editor

Connor McCaffery’s career as an Iowa athlete has been one with twists, turns, and detours. But now, the son of head men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery seems to have found his lane.

Connor McCaffery began his career as a two-sport athlete, playing baseball and basketball. With the seasonal overlap of the two sports, playing both at a Big Ten level was a daunting task.

In 2017-18, Connor McCaffery planned to redshirt his freshman season with the basketball team, but a last-second transfer forced him to waive it. He redshirted for the baseball team that spring.

The 2018-19 season was the only year Connor McCaffery played both sports. He played 34 games for the basketball team and 32 for the baseball team.

Then, he played basketball again in 2019-20, but COVID-19 canceled the end of the basketball season and all the baseball games he would’ve played in.

In 2020-21, Connor McCaffery played through two torn hip labrums on the court. He had hip surgery after the Hawkeyes’ round-of-32 loss to Oregon, and rehab kept him off the diamond. Last season, Connor McCaffery decided to hang up the cleats for good and focus all his attention on basketball.

Ever since he donned the Black and Gold, Connor McCaffery has been a hard-nosed, pass-first player who prides himself on defense and energy. But following his first injury-free, baseball-free offseason, Connor McCaffery’s offensive game has improved in his sixth season at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Connor McCaffery said playing a lot of pickup basketball over the offseason helped him gain confidence offensively.

“Having a full offseason of basketball, playing pickup, you know, being able to shoot those reckless shots and kind of having no feelings about it like, ‘Oh, OK, I can make that shot.’ Those sorts of things always help me,” Connor McCaffery said after a double-double against Georgia Tech on Nov. 29. “I’m not a big workout guy, like going with a trainer and like doing a bunch of skills and drills, but I could play pickup every day. So, that’s what I tried to do [in the offseason].”

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Through the first six games of the 2022-23 season, his offensive statistics have improved across the board.

As of Dec. 5, Connor McCaffery has made six of his 11 3-point attempts and nine of his 17 total field goal tries. Those percentages — 55 percent from beyond the arc and 53 percent on all attempts — are 17 percent and 21 percent higher than his best season in each of those categories over the last four years, respectively.

As a freshman, he shot 67 percent on field goals and 50 percent from deep, going 2-for-3 and 1-of-2, respectively, in four games of action.

“I think he’s more confident,” Hawkeye junior forward Patrick McCaffery said of his brother following a 112-71 win over North Carolina A&T. “He’s making a lot of [3-pointers] in practice … Once you do it in a game setting, the lights on and everything like that, it’s obviously different, and he made a lot of them. And you know that really helps move forward.”

In the Hawkeyes’ exhibition game against Truman State on Oct. 31, Connor McCaffery connected on four of his five threes in 20 minutes of action — although it does not count toward his season stats.

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

But his role is not confined to tangible skills on the court.

A major reason he is coming off the bench for Fran McCaffery’s squad this season is to provide a calming presence for the second unit, which includes freshmen Dasonte Bowen and Josh Dix.

Connor McCaffery, who his father described as a coach on the floor, is teaching Bowen and Dix how to play within the Iowa system.

“He’s been a big help,” Bowen said of Connor McCaffery at a Nov. 28 media availability session. “As you guys know, he’s a leader out there on the floor, so anything I don’t know, he’s been around for a while, so he usually knows. He’s always there for me to call on to ask what I have to do in certain situations, and he’s pretty good at it.”

Connor McCaffery said he sees himself as a basketball coach after he’s done playing. But first, he’s got one more season to play with his dad on the sideline and his brother Patrick beside him on the court.