WE'VE ALREADY COME A LONG WAY, BABY. Five years ago, Media Day for basketball would have been cause for preemptive groans and early depression. (It also would have been a useful time to double check and see which players were still around, just to see if anyone else had vanished in the middle of the night.) Times were tough back then. As Dochterman points out, times are a lot better now:
"I can promise you this: We’re going to compete," McCaffery said in 2010. "We’re going to play the game the right way. I’m going to coach with passion, but our players are going to have fun. They’re going to enjoy what they do on the floor, and this place is going to be rocking again."
McCaffery has delivered on his promises. The Hawkeyes won 25 games last year, 15 more than in 2010. Before McCaffery, Iowa averaged 60.5 points a game. Last year the Hawkeyes scored more than 70. Nine scholarship players with eligibility left the program under predecessor Todd Lickliter, followed by two more shortly after McCaffery’s arrival. Under McCaffery, just two opted to leave. Iowa’s season-ticket totals now could soar past 10,000 for 2013-14. In 2009-10, Iowa’s average paid attendance was 9,550.
There are some really good quotes in there from players like Basabe, Marble, and White, too, reflecting on the transformation of Iowa basketball that's taken place under their watch. Basabe and Marble came to Iowa at its lowest point; they're now on the verge of returning Iowa to a place near the top of the Big Ten.
THE EXPECTATIONS GAME. One of the things that's changed from Media Days gone by? There are actual expectations for Iowa basketball now beyond "please don't embarrass us" or "please don't finish in last place." Fran knows what the expectations are this year. The players know what the expectations are. And none of them are doing too much to pull back on those expectations.
"I don't think there's any doubt that we are excited that people think enough of our team to rank us in the top 25 and project us to be in the NCAA Tournament,’’ McCaffery said Wednesday at the Hawkeyes’ media day. "That's exciting. It's an accomplishment for some of the guys who have been here and haven't had that before. But the reality is now we have to go out and do it.’’
McCaffery talked about not believing what all the experts are saying and having the maturity to cope with higher expectations.
"I just want to get better,’’ he added later while chatting with a few reporters. "Obviously, we’d like to win a Big Ten championship. Are we capable of doing it? Absolutely. A number of other teams feel the same way … But it’s a reasonable goal.’’
"I wouldn’t say it’s NCAA Tournament or bust,’’ junior center Gabe Olaseni said. "But once you set making the NCAA Tournament as a goal, it’s kind of a letdown if you don’t get there. I wouldn’t say it would be a bust. But I feel we’re so focused on making the NCAA Tournament that we’re going to do it.’’
Let's get mad, y'all.
IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN FRANADELPHIA. This is not exactly breaking news, but the tenor of Fran McCaffery press conferences are unique (and particularly enjoyable) in the contest of Iowa coach pressers. Ferentz pressers are, by and large, pretty dull and rote; they're devoid of effusive praise or specific criticism. Brands pressers are typically very candid, but they can also be pretty terse. McCaffery pressers, though, are something else entirely. He doesn't hide behind too many cliches or too much coachspeak. He's mastered the balance of being honest and clear, while still being an effective cheerleader for his program. Fran can sell, man. Right now he's selling the state of the Iowa basketball program. And that state is good. Phenomenally good, as Hlas noted.
"What you’re going to see with Mike Gesell is a guy that’s got a chance to be a star. He’s in phenomenal shape. He’s making shots. He’s making plays. … Just an amazing, amazing competitor."
"(Adam) Woodbury has been our most impressive player since the first day of practice. He’s hungry. He’s in phenomenal shape. He has been incredibly consistent."
"(Gabe Olaseni) had a phenomenal summer."
Two weeks ago, McCaffery said "I think Aaron White is ready to be a superstar." I’m not sure an Iowa coach said something that bold about a player since Hayden Fry correctly predicted Chuck Long was destined for greatness.
On Wednesday, McCaffery didn’t back down from that opinion about White, adding "There’s somebody that I think has a chance to be first team all-league and ultimately play in the NBA."
Ferentz would probably chew Big Red before he'd call one of his players a superstar. I don't necessarily mean that as a criticism of Ferentz, either; there are different ways to handle the press, and for all the frustrations they might cause, his methods have their strengths, too. For one thing, Fran's approach is good now, but it also increases the hype and the pressure of expectations -- on himself and his players. If Iowa doesn't achieve its goals this year or Aaron White doesn't become a "superstar," the backlash isn't going to be pleasant. But that's a March problem. It's October now and everything is phenomenal, baby.
"I would say I expect him to be our point guard," Coach Fran McCaffery said. "If he’s our starting point guard, I want him to play like a point guard. I want him to think like a point guard, and to me that means you engineer victory, at home, on the road, late game. Every game is different. Some are faster, some are slower, and you’re going to see changing defenses. Sometimes you’ll see one defense. He’s been through so much, I think he’s at a point in his career where he completely understands what’s necessary at that position."
This isn't a shocking move, frankly. Iowa played some of its best ball of the season at the end of the year and in the NIT and that came when Marble was running the show at the point. Marble might not be a prototypical point guard, but he can do a lot of good things for Iowa from that position. And just because he's the starter there, it doesn't mean that Gesell and Anthony Clemmons won't still see action there:
Marble still will play off the ball on certain situations. Sophomore Anthony Clemmons started at the point for 12 games and Mike Gesell started at point guard 14 times last year. Both will play there this year to either spell Marble or put him in better scoring opportunities.
YOUR HOME IS IN THE NET. ARE YOU TOO GOOD FOR YOUR HOME, BASKETBALL? Josh Oglesby struggled to shoot three-pointers last season. You know it. I know it. He knows it. Last summer he went to see a sports psychologist. McCaffery was effusive in his praise of Oglesby's practice form last year and steadfast in his belief in #Ogles3, to the occasional consternation of Iowa fans. Is he backing down on that this year? Um... no.
"I just consistently encourage my guys to shoot the ball," McCaffery said during the team’s media day Wednesday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, "and I think in particular sometimes you have a player that needs to work on his release, can you make that quicker?
"We did that with [former Hawkeye] Matt Gatens in particular. His first year with us he was passing up what I thought were good shots and he was shooting the ball right in defenders’ faces the following year because he really worked on coming off screens and shooting the ball quicker, and we’ve done that with Josh. I think you’re going to see a completely different Josh Oglesby."
If Oglesby needs a little extra-confidence, maybe we can borrow some from Iowa's only freshman newcomer this year, Peter Jok.
"My confidence is up there," Jok said. "My teammates want me to shoot open shots. They told me I’m one of the best shooters they’ve ever seen. They told me every time I’m open, shoot it."
For his part, McCaffery said Jok "[could have] a chance to play in the NBA." Aaron White might not have received that memo, but he is refreshingly honest:
"I’m not going to sit here and say he’s the best shooter in the country or this and that," White said, "but he is definitely very skilled offensively. It’s all about putting it all together. A lot of guys can stand there and shoot, but can you shoot when the lights are on, when you have a guy closing down on you?
"I can’t say he’s going to be as good of a shooter as people are saying, because he’s probably not. People are probably saying he’s going to be the next Ray Allen. That’s unrealistic. I think he has the confidence and skill to be a great shooter at the college level."
McCaffery also clarified why Oglesby played so much last year, even when his three-point shot wasn't falling (which was often, sadly):
"Often I was criticized last year, why did you keep him in when he wasn’t making shots?" McCaffery asked. "I kept him in because he doesn’t turn the ball over and he guards. He plays defense. He works extremely hard defensively, he’s incredibly tough, and he’ll have to step in and fulfill some of that role, as well."
"We’re going to miss Eric May a lot more than the numbers would indicate, for that very reason," McCaffery said."He could lock up anybody from the 2 to the 4 spot whenever we needed him to, and that’s incredibly beneficial. So somebody is going to have to step up, not only in terms of that skill set but that toughness.
"I think we can make up for his offense, although he was a tremendous scorer late in a number of games, but somebody is going to have to step up with that leadership and defensive toughness."
He's right about that. Who fills that void? Probably a combination of guys, but my money's on Zach McCabe carrying a lot of that load.
HELLO, HOME COOKING. There will be plenty of NCAA Tournament hoops action on Iowa courts next March, with the news that both Iowa State and Iowa will be host sites for the first two rounds of the 2014 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament.
Carver-Hawkeye Arena and Hilton Coliseum both will be in use for the 2014 NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
The NCAA announced Wednesday that Iowa and Iowa State both will be host schools for first- and second-round games. It will be the second year in a row that Iowa hosts (the Hawkeyes reached the second round) and Iowa State’s first time since 2012.
Hopefully both Iowa and Iowa State are good enough next season to benefit from this potential home court advantage.