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 forward Payton Sandfort looking to take next step

Hailing from Waukee, the basketball athlete tries to fill the shoes of previous players.
Matt Sindt
Iowa sophomore forward Payton Sandfort battles a Southeast Missouri State defender during a basketball game between the Hawkeyes and the Redhawks on Saturday Dec. 17 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Sandfort scored a career-high 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting as Iowa defeated Southeast Missouri State, 106-75.

The Iowa men’s basketball team is at an unusual place.

The Hawkeyes have had a National Player of the Year candidate for the past four seasons — Luka Garza, Keegan Murray, and Kris Murray.

This is the first season without any of those players in the lineup. Head coach Fran McCaffrey is looking for the next guy to fill those holes.

“Obviously, when you have Garza and Keegan that’s different,” McCaffrey said. “Last year at this time, Kris Murray was coming off averaging nine points a game. He said ‘I’m coming back, I’m going to average 20, and I’m going to go in the first round. I’m going to bet on myself.’ I was so proud of him for taking that approach. So somebody now is going to have to do the same thing.”

This season, there is a slew of candidates to take that leap. Veterans Patrick McCaffrey and Tony Perkins are two options with a lot of experience. Both players have had seasons averaging double digits.

A third option for the team is third-year Payton Sandfort.

In his freshman year, Sandfort showed flashes of what he could bring to the Hawkeyes.

Despite only playing 10 minutes per game, Sandfort made the most of his time. The Waukee, Iowa, product averaged five points and two rebounds per game in his first year — shooting 36 percent from deep on three attempts per contest.

Sandfort started his 2022-23 campaign off slowly. In the first 14 games, he averaged eight points while shooting 34 percent from the field and 21 percent from three.

He was demoted from his starting role and remained Iowa’s “sixth man” moving forward.

In this new role, Sandfort thrived and found both his shooting and confidence back. In the last 19 games of the season, he averaged nearly 12 points per game. He shot 42 percent from deep on almost six attempts per game.

“I really had to find my identity and myself again,” Sandfort said. “I was struggling with a lot of things off the floor and it kind of transitioned on the floor. Once I got all that kind of sorted out and rediscovered who I was, I was back to just playing the game I love again. It made it easy.”

The Hawkeyes were eliminated in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season by the No. 9-seeded Auburn Tigers.

The disappointing ending fueled rumors of Sandfort potentially leaving Iowa and going to a school for a bigger NIL contract.

Ultimately, Sandfort chose to stay with the Hawkeyes — crediting his relationship with McCaffery as the difference.

“This place is home,” Sandfort said. “Coach McCaffery was the first guy to believe in me. I really don’t ever want to abandon that. He’s always had my back through the tough times.”

Sandfort and the Hawkeyes have had success in his tenure, but he thinks the team can do more. He and the Hawkeyes have experienced two NCAA Tournament berths but are still looking for that deep run.

“I am not satisfied at all,” Sandfort said of his career. “Still a lot of goals to be accomplished. I came in always wanting to be in the Final Four and do damage in the tournament. We haven’t been successful in that so far. Just keep working for that every day. Obviously proud of what I’ve done, but there is so much more work to be done.”

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About the Contributor
Jake Olson, Sports Reporter
Email: [email protected] Jake Olson is a Sports Reporter for The Daily Iowan. In his three years with the paper, he has covered everything from rowing to basketball. He is studying journalism and mass communication with a minor in sports and rec management.