Did the fact that Iowa Basketball held its annual Media Day yesterday afternoon sneak up on you, too? It did? Ok good, because that’s how it felt to me. My mind is fully engrained in football mode, and to be frank, I haven’t given Iowa basketball much thought since last spring, when Tyler Cook announced he would return to Iowa City for his junior season. Seasons like last year’s gut-punch of a season will do that to any fan of a team, no matter how dedicated.
But it’s a new year, and a new slate. Does that mean everything in Iowa City has been magically fixed? Probably not. What sort of expectations are realistic this year as an Iowa basketball fan this year? A return to the NCAA Tournament or see ya later Fran (my personal opinion)?
I don’t have all the answers. I’m not in practice. I wasn’t even at media day, so I couldn’t ask these questions even if I wanted to. Thankfully, other media members were. So let’s round up the best of what Fran had to say in his press conference (which you can read in full here), as well as some highlights from the players. Note: I present these questions out of order for better thematic purpose.
Q. You talked about players taking ownership and being less complacent. Have you seen evidence that that’s happening already?
COACH FRAN McCAFFERY: I would say most of the time. I want it to be all the time. But I do think there has been a concerted effort to make those changes, and remember, we started working out in June...the good news is, you start practicing June. Sometimes the bad news is, sometimes you start practicing in June, you know, because it makes the season seem really long.
I think we really tried to guard against that. Here it is, it’s June 15, and we’re going up-and-down; we don’t have a game till November 8, and we hope to be playing our best basketball in March.
So I think we have to be a little bit cognizant of the uniqueness of that situation, and then not overreact one way or the other
Q. As a coach, how do you get out of -- you don’t want complacency. Are you harder on them this year? How do you handle getting the best out of them?
COACH FRAN McCAFFERY: You know what, I haven’t been harder on them this year. What I’ve tried to do is coach them the way that I typically coach them. A lot of times, people see me maybe lose my temper in a game, and it’s really not the way I coach.
LOL, ok Fran.
If you come to practice, it’s not the way I am.
And Josh Oglesby was a sharpshooter in practice. And yet...
Occasionally I’ll get that way if I think, you know, we’ve got a couple bad calls and I try not to, but sometimes that happens. If we’re going through the same thing with a particular player, over and over and over and over, and they are still doing it wrong, well, that’s going to be a source of frustration.
But for the most part, I treat these guys like professionals. We’re going to work hard and we’re going to put a game plan together and we’re going to have a practice plan that really makes sense for our team, and we’re going to understand and explain what needs to be done before practice, during practice, after practice, and we are all in this together. So we are all participants in what the end game is going to be.
So that’s -- so I’m going to -- this is what I need you to do and treat them with respect and hopefully they will perform at the level that’s within their capability. I don’t expect them to do what they can’t do.
I think I do a really good job, and so does my staff, of understanding the strengths and limits of each particular player; so that I don’t put too much of an expectation on one person, and then when they don’t achieve that, then I jump all over them, because that’s unrealistic and I try not to be unrealistic.
There are and might be days where I feel like, maybe I’ve got to rev it up a little bit based on what I’m saying and what my staff is seeing. We’ll talk about that. I’ve got a very experienced staff that’s not afraid to say, hey, we’ve got to get after it today or, you know, not.
When you have a veteran group, you’d like to think that I don’t have to walk into practice and really get on them on a regular basis. They need to rev it up themselves and come with a mindset that’s necessary. These guys were on a team that won 19 games. They were on a team that lost 19 games. There’s a big difference.
Q. Do you think your players feel any pressure to win this year and what can you do as a coach to relax them?
COACH FRAN McCAFFERY: I would think that they would feel pressure to win every year, and I think that’s the plan. You start the season, you feel like you have a good team; we’re supposed to win. Let’s go win. Let’s put it together. Let’s compete together. Let’s understand how each of us can help the other.
So we’re helping them. They are helping each other. They are getting better. We’re getting better. I’d like to think it’s not every possession has to be won, or else we’re completely failing based on what happened last year. I don’t think you want that mindset. There’s got to be a comfortability and confidence level that’s developed and I think we’re working towards that.
This reads kind of weird to me. I mean, there are so many possessions per a game of basketball, but shouldn’t the point at least be to win most of the possessions?
Q. Do you feel any, oh, I don’t know -- did you question yourself last year, a losing season, or was that sort of an aberration for this program? I realize you had injuries and you had a young team, etc., but, do you stop and say: I’ve got to look at myself?
COACH FRAN McCAFFERY: Absolutely. I think you have to. Because if you don’t, what you’re saying is, it’s everybody’s fault, and I think that’s foolish and unfair.
So you have to analyze everything; what did I do, what can I do differently. You know, what do I need to demand out of my staff. How do we plan practice. How do we run practice. What’s the role of our graduate assistants, our student managers. How are we doing recruiting.
And then make sure the players know and understand that that’s our part, and now they have to do their part. Okay, what did they do well; what didn’t they do well.
So you have an end-of-the-year meeting. We can look at the numbers, and we can tell who did what and who was turning the ball over and who was making 3s and who wasn’t making 3s and who was consistent and who was inconsistent. It’s not that we’re picking anybody apart. We’re being realistic as to what happened and what we have to improve upon.
Essentially it starts with me to do that and most importantly, the players need to know that that’s what I’m doing, and I’m not putting it all on them. You know, I don’t think you want to, as a coach in that situation, make excuses for anybody, for myself, for players.
We could come up with plenty of excuses as to why it happened, but if you were to look at every other team, most of those teams have injury and experience, a tough schedule. I mean, some, it kind of all falls together, but most everybody has those things. And you can start listing them if you want to, but I don’t know if it does anybody any good.
That’s a lot of paragraphs there to say...essentially, nothing.
Q. What did you decide that you could do differently?
COACH FRAN McCAFFERY: I’ve always been an offensive coach. We’re going to put points on the board. We’re going to run. We’re going to attack, and essentially, we’re going to out-score you.
Most of the time, that’s worked. If you look every year that I’ve coached, we’ve scored the ball. We’ve attacked the rim. We’ve gotten to the free throw line. We’ve gotten into the bonus, gotten into the double bonus.
My players play with supreme confidence. I always have guys up in the scoring leaders, all-league guys, because they play with confidence, and I let them play. That’s great, and our offensive numbers were really good last year. I mean, tremendously good.
But our defensive numbers were not. So, okay, we have to spend more time in practice, whether it’s breaking drills down, one-on-one, two-on-two, three-on-three, four-on-four, and then ultimately five-on-five. Okay, how do we transition defensively; what have we been teaching.
We have to reorganize how we teach that. Ball screen defense; you could go staff-by-staff throughout the country and you might have staffs that spend four hours a day talking about ball screens. It’s just one of those things.
So many teams are running ball screen offenses, whether it be continuity or late shot clock, and depending upon who their point guard is, and depending upon who their 2-guard is.
We really have spent a lot more time talking about defense, and defensive drills, and emphasizing defense, and trying to hold them accountable.
Some of the other stuff will be pretty similar, but maybe a little more subtle changes, little differences. But maybe nothing too major.
Listening to Fran McCaffery, he genuinely seems to have changed his coaching style. Says he's always been an offensive coach. Always. This year, more than ever, he's been focusing on defense. Very heartfelt answer.— Chad Leistikow (@ChadLeistikow) October 8, 2018
I don’t know if heartfelt is the right word for that, but hey, I wasn’t in the room. However, I am still taking this assessment with a grain of salt until I see otherwise. Last year’s defense was particularly atrocious. But if this pans out, good things could happen with this team. At the very least, it’s refreshing to see Fran admit a fault here. That doesn’t happen often.
Q. Do you also have to make sure you guard against overreacting way you did last year; that maybe it was an aberration and stay the course?
COACH FRAN McCAFFERY: I don’t think you can just say it’s an aberration, you know, because it’s a fairly large random sample of data. You know, an aberration is what happens maybe in a week, but not a season.
So I think you have to be realistic with yourself and your staff and your players and say, okay, we’ve got to fix this. Change has to be made. Changes have to be made.
The hardest thing sometimes is for everybody to do a self-evaluation. It’s easy to say, I do what I could do. Our guards were there; we didn’t rebound; our post didn’t block any shots; our coaches didn’t have us ready.
There’s any number of things. The food was bad at the hotel; there’s so many excuses that you can make, but you know, you go that route and you’re not going to make any progress, in my opinion.
So, basically, Fran is reflective and the only thing he’s going to change is defense. Ok! Let’s see what Fran had to say about his players:
Q. What have you seen with Joe Wieskamp so far?
COACH FRAN McCAFFERY: Joe’s been terrific. Very professional in his approach to working, to listening, to figuring things out. Very competitive. Really locked in.
Scoring the ball, you know, taking good shots. Understanding the offense and how he fits. Very mature for a young guy, but I think not unexpected.
Q. What can translate most immediately to the college level, that we’ve seen in high school?
COACH FRAN McCAFFERY: His game translates well. You know, he’s a guy I think most known for his ability to score and put up incredible numbers, but he’s a really good defender. He’s a really good ball handler.
So if you’re playing him at small forward, it gives you another handler, somebody who can make a shot but make a play for somebody else who makes a shot.
He can guard a number of different positions, so it gives us some flexibility there. You know, so I think he kind of views himself as somebody who can really help our team, even if his shot is not falling on any particular day. And that’s because he’s got such a complete game.
That’s what we need from him. You know, yes, he’s a terrific shooter. Yes, we’ve seen him make eight 3s in a game and he’s got the ability to do that. That’s going to be hard to do at this level. He’ll make a bunch, no doubt about that. But I think he’ll impact the game with his competitive instincts, his defense, his rebounding, his ball handling, and most importantly, his versatility.
I am truly very excited to watch this kid in an Iowa uniform. I don’t know if he’ll be a star right out of the gate, but the potential seems like it’s there. Iowa needs a versatile player, and it sounds like Wieskamp might be the solution.
Q. How will Jordan Bohannon be a better player? And how important are leadership skills going into his junior year?
COACH FRAN McCAFFERY: What he has to do is recognize that he’s been our starting point guard for two years. His numbers have been phenomenal, as you pointed out, and he has to fulfill that role. I think if you were to analyze last year’s team, we were a group that got along well together. But somebody’s got to lead us.
Tyler Cook has been the guy who stepped up and said he wants to be the guy, but it’s always going to be at some level your point guard. They are in the same class. They both have accomplished a tremendous amount of things in two years.
I’ve given Jordan the green light to be the guy.
Fran giving the green light can be good or bad, honestly.
He can call plays. He can gather his teammates, whether it be in the locker room or at any given point in time in practice. I think he’s earned the respect of everybody. So that if he does that, they will listen to him, and he has to understand that they will listen to him; that he has my support and the support of our staff.
What I think you’ll see is a guy who is better in that area, and while at the same time, consistently putting up the kind of numbers we’re seen.
I certainly hope so.
Q. What you need from Tyler Cook this year?
COACH FRAN McCAFFERY: We just need Tyler Cook to do what he’s always done, but maybe be a little bit better. I think you expect a guy to get better from his freshman to sophomore year; he did. He was really good as a freshman. He made the all-rookie team.
Last year his numbers went up. He had a great summer. Really putting the time in on his own, whether it be getting in early for lifts or staying late for shooting or coming in on off-days. He’s just a guy that really puts the time in, so you like to see him enjoy the benefit of that hard work and be essentially more productive.
You know, that said, he shot, what, 57 percent from the field and really improved his free throw shooting. His rebounding numbers went up. So, okay, let’s look at his stat line. Maybe his turnovers go down, his rebounds go up, be more of a presence defensively. He’s really good at moving his feet laterally. For a big guy, we can use him in pressing situations or in switching situations because he can move his feet and guard a point guard, a small forward or a power forward. Really stay engaged defensively and be more of a shot-blocker and we’ve seen that a little bit so far in practice. I think that’s what he wants to do.
A Tyler Cook who really cares about defense could be a very scary thing. I hope this pans out.
Q. Where does Luka Garza stand right now?
COACH FRAN McCAFFERY: Luka just started running, so that’s been a big step for him. He was excited about that. Really got his first sweat in over the weekend. He had been on the treadmill and riding the bike exclusively. So now he’s running and shooting. But he’s in a really good place mentally I think. Just have to be patient.
An absolutely wild tweet about this:
Garza says his cyst weighed 9 pounds!!! Still hopes there’s a chance he’s back for opening game. Calls this a ‘little adversity.’ Unreal— MarkEmmert (@MarkEmmert) October 8, 2018
LINKS GALORE (And player interviews)
Hlas again: Luka Garza lost a “basketball,” and that’s good
I may not have woken up today knowing it was basketball media day, but damn it if I’m not a bit excited now. Stop me if you’ve heard this one on this blog before, but this team has some potential, no?