The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa men’s basketball’s freshmen class making quick strides

Pryce Sandfort, Owen Freeman, Brock Harding, and Ladji Dembele have a chance to find themselves on the hardwood this season.
Rohan Abernathy-Wee
Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery looks on during a men’s basketball game between Iowa and Nebraska at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Sunday, March 5, 2023. The Cornhuskers defeated the Hawkeyes, 81-77.

The change of pace and physicality from high school basketball to the Big Ten can be stunning.

But Iowa men’s basketball’s freshman class — forward Owen Freeman, forward Pryce Sandfort, forward Ladji Dembele, and guard Brock Harding — has impressed head coach Fran McCaffery so far this summer.

“They have picked everything up amazingly quickly,” McCaffrey said before workouts on July 20. “We’re throwing it all at them … and a lot of the time it takes a while. These guys have, I think, basketball instincts.”

The Hawkeyes have had four freshmen average 10 points or more per game since 2017, including Jordan Bohannon, Luka Garza, Joe Wieskamp, and C.J. Fredrick.

McCaffery added that the team is working at an even faster rate than usual because they are heading overseas. From Aug. 5-16, the Hawkeyes will travel to Paris and Spain for a three-game tour. The trip will be the first for Iowa since visiting Germany, Switzerland, and Italy in the summer of 2017.

This will be a great opportunity for the freshmen to get experience playing against other athletes at the collegiate level and with one another.

“It’s awesome because coming here is the first time that we haven’t really had AAU basketball,” Harding said. “To have games to look forward to in August kind of makes the summer grind that much more fun knowing that we have something to look forward to, and it’ll make the transition easier once we get to the fall.”

What’s helped Harding transition smoothly so far is his relationship with Freeman. Freeman joined Harding at Moline High School ahead of his senior season, and the pair helped propel the Maroons to a Class 4A state title in March.

Harding was named Illinois “Mr. Basketball” after averaging 18.5 points and 5.6 assists.

“It’s really good to have someone that you’re super close with to go along with you on the journey.” Freeman said. “He’s like my brother.”

But those two aren’t the only Hawkeyes who have a connection, as Pryce Sandfort joined his junior brother and guard Payton Sandfort when he committed to the Hawkeyes.

Pryce Sandfort is thankful he has someone to go to off the court. Because the freshman lives in the dorms and doesn’t have a car, Payton Sandfort gives him rides to practice and helps him navigate Iowa City.

The most difficult transition for Iowa’s 2022-23 “Mr. Basketball,” however, might be guarding his older brother in practice.

“It’s actually really difficult to guard him,” Pryce Sandfort said. “He’s trying to get me up to speed. He obviously has some really good parts to his game that he can score on me with, but I feel like I’m getting better every day and getting better defensively.”

The last commit to the 2023 class was Dembele, who is 6-foot-8 and up to 260 pounds, McCaffery said.

With the departure of starting forward Filip Rebraca, who averaged 14.1 points and 7.5 boards last season, the Hawkeyes are in desperate need of a big man who can compete with the physicality of the Big Ten on the glass.

Dembele said he has been practicing dribbling and watching lots of film, specifically his defense, to nail the little details before heading overseas in August and playing in Carver-Hawkeye Arena this fall.

So far, McCaffery is liking what he sees from Dembele down low.

“He has been a phenomenally impressive rebounder, every day since he got here, which is what we need from that position,” McCaffery said. “Most freshmen don’t come in and consistently rebound the way he has.”

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About the Contributor
Kenna Roering
Kenna Roering, Sports Editor
Kenna Roering is The Daily Iowan's sports editor. She is a junior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism with a minor in sports and recreation management. Kenna previously worked as a sports reporter for men's wrestling and volleyball and was the summer sports editor in 2023. This is her second year with the DI.