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 head coach Fran McCaffery praises first-year players for their readiness, senses immediate impact

The Hawkeyes look to utilize Brock Harding, Ladij Dembele, Pryce Sandfort, and Owen Freeman this season.
Isabella Tisdale
Iowa guard Brock Harding tells the story of his tattoo to media during the 2023 Men’s Basketball media day at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Monday Oct. 2, 2023. Harding is a freshman point guard from Moline, Illinois.

Iowa men’s basketball head coach Fran McCaffery is pleasantly surprised with how well the Hawkeyes’ first-year players are carrying themselves. 

There are four true freshmen on the Iowa roster — Brock Harding, Ladij Dembele, Pryce Sandfort, and Owen Freeman. McCaffery has worked with a lot of rookies during his 13-year tenure with the Hawkeyes, yet this group of newcomers is unique. He raved about their sense of readiness and poise at media availability on Monday. 

“They’re not mistake guys. Sometimes you have a guy whose body is not ready yet. They’re gonna be good, but it’s going to take a year. I wouldn’t say that for any of those guys,” McCaffery said. “Any given year, I would feel comfortable starting them as freshmen because of their feel for the game, their body, and their talent level. I think they all deserve to play the game.”

Freeman and Harding were high school teammates at Moline High School. The star duo led their team to a 4A Illinois state title last year with a win over Benet Academy. 

Freeman was the first of the two to commit to Iowa. The 6-foot-10 forward spoke about their mindset going from state champions to Big Ten basketball. 

“Me and Brock have that history, whether it’s on the AAU circuit or it’s in high school. We have that mindset that we don’t want to lose. We’re not here to lose,” Freeman said. “Going through that high school experience and kind of playing those big games … It makes you want it more, especially at this level. Me and Brock have that, and I feel like we can really bring that to Iowa City.”

After going through almost all of high school without a Power Five offer, Harding started gaining recognition across the country. He received offers from Loyola, Rice, and Colorado State. Through Freeman’s persistence in asking Harding to join him at Iowa, the 6-foot guard committed shortly after receiving an offer. 

Playing for a Big Ten team with NBA roots in Keegan and Kris Murray, Harding is focused on what he can control at the moment.

“I’d say the biggest thing is we got to win. I was known for winning a lot of games, and that’s really helped getting to the next level,” Harding said. “I think a lot of guys on this team are just focused on winning games this year, and the rest of the stuff will take care of itself.”

As for Dembele, McCaffery said the 6-foot-8, 250-pounder is well in tune with the flow of the game coming out of national powerhouse St. Benedict Prep in New Jersey. 

“He knows how to win, and there are times when I just would like to see him be a little more aggressive shooting the ball, driving the ball, posting up,” McCaffery said. “I think we’ll eventually see that.” 

It’s a rarity to have a set of siblings playing on the same team in college sports. First, it was the McCaffery brothers, then the Murray twins, and now the Sandfort brothers. 

First-year Pryce Sandfort couldn’t pass on the opportunity to play with his older brother, third-year guard Payton Sandfort. The 6-foot-6 forward is ecstatic to be in this position. 

“It’s been a dream come true for us. A lot of people don’t get to do that, and we get to do that at the college level,” Pryce Sandfort said. “Just being with him on the court again, just like we were in high school, is a dream come true.”

One of the most important parts of development is building an athlete’s confidence. McCaffery has been praised for installing and maintaining confidence in his players. 

“The most important thing when they first get here, it’s new, and you have to be patient. There’s no screaming and yelling at practice,” McCaffery said. “It’s teaching. We’re going to get better. We watch film together. They learn, they grow, they develop confidence because they’re not on edge.

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About the Contributors
Chris Meglio, Sports Reporter
Chris Meglio is a first year student at the University of Iowa studying a double major in sport studies and journalism. He will be working as a sports journalist for The Daily Iowan covering women's volleyball for the fall sports season.
Isabella Tisdale, Photojournalist
Isabella Tisdale is a photojournalist for The Daily Iowan and is a senior at West High school. In her free time, she stage manages for the theater program at West High. She plans to double major in political science and journalism.