‘Coming to a full end’: Connor McCaffery reflects on six-year career with Iowa men’s basketball

McCaffery will play his 151st and final regular season game as a Hawkeye on Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.


Matt Sindt

Iowa guard Connor McCaffery takes the ball down court during a men’s basketball game between Iowa and Ohio State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023. The Hawkeyes defeated the Buckeyes, 92-75.

Chris Werner, Assistant Sports Editor

Connor McCaffery’s career in a Hawkeye basketball jersey has been filled with scrutiny, adversity, and change. But his love for basketball and knowledge of the game have carried him through his six seasons at Iowa.

McCaffery hasn’t been the most talented offensive player on the floor this season for the Hawkeyes. In fact, he’s been far from it, averaging just 6.9 points per game. But the versatile 6-foot-5 215-pounder has been arguably the most valuable, per his father, Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery.

“He’s the leader of this team,” Fran McCaffery said of Connor McCaffery in early December 2022. “So, when he talks, people listen — whether it’s in practice, whether it’s on the bus, whether it’s in the locker room, whether it’s on the bench.”

Connor McCaffery has the ear of his teammates because he’s been around the Iowa basketball program since his dad became the head coach in 2010. His knowledge of the Hawkeyes’ system, particularly their offense, is evident not from the points he scores, but from the passes he makes.

Connor McCaffery leads the team with 3.6 assists per game this season and leads the nation with a 4.21 assist/turnover ratio, as of Monday, including a historic 13-assist, zero-turnover outing against Ohio State on Feb. 17.

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But Connor McCaffery’s career wasn’t always as a leader on his father’s team. He came to Iowa as a two-sport athlete, playing baseball in the spring, before he was bitten by the injury bug.

In 2020-21, after a winding road that included only one season of baseball and three full years of basketball in his first four seasons at Iowa, Connor McCaffery played through two torn hip labrums on the court and had hip surgery after the Hawkeyes’ round-of-32 loss to Oregon. Rehab kept him off the diamond that spring.

Last season, Connor McCaffery decided to hang up the cleats for good and focus all his attention on basketball.

Now, nearing his final game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Connor McCaffery said he sometimes thinks about what could’ve been for him on the baseball field, but said he always knew he preferred basketball.

“I don’t know, I’ve always wondered, you know, what if I really beefed up, got to like 230-240, and just hit bombs,” Connor McCaffery told the media with a smile on Feb. 24. “Completely focused on baseball year-round, took at-bats, swings, like, the strength that I could have gained doing that. Being in a year-round sport like baseball needs to be just completely different, and I’ve definitely wondered about that. But ultimately, I think, like, just the fact that I really did love basketball more. I think that always would have probably pulled me back.”

Connor McCaffery’s love for basketball also pulled him through his hip injuries and rehab — something he said he’ll remember about his college career.

“How much I wanted to really get back out there and be a part of this team, this culture, be with my family and my friends,” Connor McCaffery said. “Just really how much it meant to me that, you know, I was willing to do whatever it took to get back out there and do whatever I could, at times good, at times bad, or whatever the case may be, just play as well as, as well as I was capable of.”

While he has done everything he can to get on the court throughout his career, Connor McCaffery was also listening and paying attention to the team during the year he was supposed to redshirt in 2017-18. That season, he only played four games.

Iowa finished that season at 14-19 — the last time the Hawkeyes ended a season below .500.

Connor McCaffery said that experience helped him lead the Hawkeyes this season.

“Just being a part of some [teams], like the year I didn’t play, being on a losing team, I mean, I was here in practice and stuff like that, but I didn’t play at all,” Connor McCaffery said. “But I got to see kind of like, what that was like. And then the coming back, whenever I’ve played, we’ve always won. So, I’ve been able to use experiences from every year, to compare to other times,”

Connor McCaffery plans to follow in Fran McCaffery’s footsteps after this season and go into coaching.

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Fran McCaffery thinks Connor McCaffery will be a great coach.

“I’m happy for him to pursue whatever it is he’s passionate about,” Fran McCaffery said. “You know, I didn’t want him to do it because I did it. I didn’t want him to not do it because I did it. I wanted that to be up to him. He’s been coming to practices since he was in kindergarten, so he’s like, ‘Look, I know how we do things. I know our system inside and out.’”

Fran McCaffery said, however, he thinks it’s important that Connor McCaffery goes somewhere else to begin his coaching career to be exposed to different styles of basketball and coaching.

Connor McCaffery said he always had a desire to coach, and he has thought about it more this season because he knows he doesn’t have any more college eligibility.

“There has always been a little voice in the back of my head kind of telling me, like, that’s the direction I’ll go,” Connor McCaffery said. “But this year, just being completely locked in on basketball, and finally knowing that it’s coming to a full end, I don’t have another year to fall back on. I can’t put off a professional career anymore. And I just kind of had to think about it.”