The hoopyball recruiting season is in full swing but so far no one wants to let the Franimal take them to prom this spring. The latest recruit to snub Fran's wooing was Wes Washpun, a late blooming recruit from Cedar Rapids Washington (and teammate of already-signed Iowa recruit Josh Oglesby) who opted to head to Tennessee instead. On one hand, his decision isn't too surprising: Tennessee is a BCS school with far more recent success and their new coach, Cuonzo Martin, had been (by all accounts) Washpun's most dogged pursuer when he was at Missouri State. On the other hand, it always stings when a kid who grew up a Hawkeye fan and goes to school 20 minutes up the road spurns Iowa for a school hundreds of miles away.
Based on the way McCaffery handled Washpun's recruitment (not offering until last week, not really staying in close contact with Washpun), it seems pretty obvious that he saw Washpun as a fallback recruit. Which would probably be fine if he wasn't striking out on all of his first-choice recruits (the Eli Carter recruitment feels like a complete pipe dream and Cezar Guerrero left him at the altar for Okie State) and courting every JUCO point guard prospect with a pulse. (And he's struggling there, too; Pierre Jackson opted for Baylor this weekend.) There's no indication that Washpun is a can't-miss prospect (his shooting stroke remains incredibly raw, from the sound of things), but he has impressive athleticism and strong on-the-ball defending skills, which would have been very, very handy indeed. He may not have played more than 6-10 minutes next year, but (1) Iowa needs a guy who can do that and spell Bryce Cartwright during games, (2) Iowa needs more depth if they want to play the press-happy defense McCaffery has talked about playing here, and (3) Iowa needs better defenders, period.
Iowa badly needs a back-up point guard for next year (unless you really want a reprise of Adventures in Ballhandling with Gatens, May, and Marble) and Washpun would have capably filled that need. Again, Washpun himself isn't (by all accounts) the sort of blue-chip recruit that can radically transform a team; he is, however, a player who could have capably filled in at a position of need and a player for whom there is no obvious replacement, either on the team or among the recruits (prospective or otherwise).
It's not as if McCaffery has done a poor job of recruiting so far -- he pulled pretty impressive rabbits out of his hat with the Cartwright and Melsahn Basabe signings last spring and his two already-signed recruits this year, Oglesby and Aaron White, look promising. White, in particular, looks like a proverbial diamond in the rough: he had 19 points and was named the MVP in the Ohio-Kentucky All-Star Game this weekend*. But it hurts to lose out on talented in-state kids -- particularly in-state kids that are within spitting distance of the Iowa campus; Washpun's defection makes McCaffery 1-for-4 in landing top prospects from the Cedar Rapids area over the past six or so months. In addition to Washpun, Jared Uthoff (Cedar Rapids Jefferson) chose Wisconsin (presumably because there were no Bohannons for Bo Ryan to pilfer this year) and Marcus Paige (Linn-Mar) announced that he's going to sign with North Carolina next year (presumably because Roy Williams owns the state of Iowa and graciously leases it out to the rest of us).
* It's also possible that he got MVP honors purely because he didn't have a name that started with Tr-:
The Ohio team included four other Big Ten signees – Trey Lewis (Penn State), Trey Burke (Michigan), Travis Trice (Michigan State) and Traevon Jackson (Wisconsin).
After Clay Travis' epic 2K11 trolling campaign against the state of Ohio, we're pretty sure you won't see that many names derived from "Travis" used for Ohio kids 18 years from now.
The failings of the last two coaches to retain homegrown talent (the 2009 Mr. Basketball notwithstanding) are well-documented and though there's no indication that Washpun is a talent on par with Kirk Hinrich or Nick Collison or Harrison Barnes -- or even Jason Bohannon -- one of the problem with striking out on so many homegrown talents is that it puts a lot of pressure on McCaffery to score big with out-of-state kids. So far he appears to have a pretty good batting average there and if he can keep hauling in Cartwright or Basabe-style talents, more power to the Franimal. It gave me a few extra warm fuzzies to cheer for homegrown talents like Jeff Horner, Greg Brunner, and Adam Haluska in 2005-2006 -- but I also have plenty of affection for guys like Cartwright or Basabe whose only connection to the state of Iowa began when they set foot on campus. Still, it might not hurt to spend a little more time developing relationships close to home, too, just in case he finds himself in need of some local lovin' in the recruiting process.