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Iowa Basketball: Observations from Hawkeye Camp

It was a great experience that came with actual takeaways for Hawkeye hoops fans.

Syndication: HawkCentral
Keegan Murray solidified his place atop my kiddo’s favorite Hawkeyes list over the weekend.
Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Happy Monday, Hawkeye fans! Hope everyone enjoyed the weekend, particularly the dads out there. lf you’re a regular here, you likely recall from last week’s mailbag that ol’ JP spent a good portion of his Father’s Day weekend at the 9th annual (well, what would have been the 10th annual but due to Covid, it was canceled a year ago) Father-Son Hawkeye Basketball Camp.

Now, for starters, highly recommend the camp. As a Hawkeye fan, it was a tremendous experience. But as a father, it was off the charts. I walked in Friday night with a 6 year old who liked to play basketball, knew I was a Hawkeye fan and enjoyed watching both Iowa and Luka Garza... for 5-10 minutes at a time. I left less than 24 hours later with a kid who is obsessed with Hawkeye basketball, knows every player’s name and hasn’t stopped telling everyone who will listen every detail he can recall.

I won’t run down every detail, but will simply say it was worth every penny (I think all in the cost was close to $300, which would have included a night in the new Courtyard by Kinnick if you came in from out of town). Aside from the drills and instruction, there was time for tours of all the facilities, including the locker room, one-on-one against every player and an autograph session with pictures to cap things off.

Long story short, if you’ve got a little one (K through 6th grade) I am a big fan of the experience.

But you, ostensibly, don’t come here to hear the personal stories of the BHGP staff and I’m not here to bore you with them. Instead, I’m here to share what takeaways I could glean with regards to the team and this coming season. So here goes.

The Staff

Nothing major in terms of the staff, but the first thing that stood out right off the bat was head coach McCaffery was not there. Neither was Sherm Dillard. Nor was Kirk Speraw. That was not as advertised and it marked the first time in the camp’s history Fran has missed the event.

The reason: the NCAA recently made adjustments to the recruiting calendar when they opened things up for visits in June. That included a live evaluation period over the weekend - the first in more than a year. As a result, the vast majority of the staff was on the road recruiting. I’m perfectly happy to take one for the team on that front.

The only other minor observation on the staff was in regards to Courtney Eldridge. Coach Eldridge, of course, played for McCaffery at UNC-Greensboro and is the newest member of the staff. Despite being relatively new, he seemed to have a great relationship with the players. There was plenty of joking around, lots of hard times given and even a comment from Connor McCaffery about Eldridge being one of his earliest favorite players when he was just a little guy before the move to New York.

Injury Report

As we’re all aware, the Hawkeyes are a relative walking MASH unit. There have been offseason surgeries for for Jordan Bohannon, Connor McCaffery, Joe Toussaint and Ahron Ulis. They appeared to be at various points in their recoveries this weekend.

That is, all but Bohannon. Jordan and Austin Ash were the only Hawkeyes on the roster (and not actively pursuing the NBA) who were not in attendance over the weekend. While my Spidey senses initially went off on that fact, Bohannon was in fact at the day camp all week.

As for the others, all were active participants in the camp. Connor was moving around well for a guy coming off a hip surgery. He was even able to step in for some of the “beat a Hawk” events to round out camp. He certainly wasn’t pushing things and noted on a couple of occasions that he couldn’t beat Patrick or Jack in 1-on-1 anymore, but when healthy was definitely the best head to head.

He’s still got another surgery to go and being able to walk through matchups against 6 year olds is not in the same universe as playing against Big Ten opponents, but he’s going to be playing likely by December. Possibly sooner.

As for Joe Toussaint and his ankle surgery, he showed absolutely no signs of injury. Again, there wasn’t a ton of running around, but he was an active participant in a few of the drills and moving around very well. Toussaint has been a polarizing character for Hawkeye fans given his propensity for turnovers, but count me in the camp of optimistic. Once again fully healthy, he brings something to the floor nobody else does.

Toussaint was also a fan favorite and one of the best in the bunch when it came to interacting with the kids. It’s really hard not to root for a guy like that when they finally get the keys to the car.

That leaves Ahron Ulis, who had offseason wrist surgery. His was an injury that kind of went without much conversation until Fran let it slip in press availability and in retrospect, it makes a lot more sense how the CJ Fredrick injury was handled.

At camp, his injury again went largely unnoticed day one. He was active in everything and even leading the ballhandling drills. Despite spending close to an hour straight dribbling with both hands, he seemed totally fine.

That wasn’t the case the next morning when he showed up with ice taped to his injured wrist. He was back at it when it came time for the one-on-one activities with the kids, but certainly a reminder that he’s still recovering.

I would expect both Toussaint and Ulis to be ready to go at full strength well in advance of the season, even in the latter has some bumps in the road over the coming weeks.

The New Kids On the Block

Iowa didn’t sign a big recruiting class this year, but it does include some interesting twists along the way. That included a grad transfer from North Dakota, the reclassification of a 2022 commit and a standard in-state signing.

That last one, Payton Sandfort, is officially on campus. He reported he’s been in town for a little more than two weeks. You wouldn’t know it if he didn’t tell you. He’s going to need to add some strength and acknowledged that, but he’s nearly as tall as Patrick McCaffery and if he can still shoot the way he did as a prep he will have a role this year.

Sandfort also seemed to be getting along great with the guys, which is pretty remarkable given the short time on campus and the complete lack of prior interaction. Sandfort shared as part of a Q&A with the kids that he wasn’t able to do the things all the other guys talked about in terms of meeting the players, making connections and feeling like Iowa City was just home and the team was their family. Really wild times for recruiting over the last year.

Aside from Sandfort, Filip Rebraca also had some interesting takeaways. We heard a couple weeks ago during his media availability that Rebraca may well be in town for two seasons thanks to the extra year of eligibility for everyone due to Covid. That was reiterated when the North Dakota transfer introduced himself as a junior in the program.

Not much else notable on the newcomer other than he too seemed to be getting along well with everyone. There was plenty of joking around for a guy who just recently arrived.

For me, the bigger takeaway was on Riley Mulvey. The former class of 202 commit reclassified to 2021 and since then there has been much speculation on whether he would be physically ready to go this fall.

I won’t pretend to have a definitive answer, but from what I saw over the weekend I think he will be capable of providing some spot minutes. Mulvey has a big base and is every bit of 6’10”. His trunk is perfectly suited to add bulk up top and by the time he’s done in Iowa City he could be a physical force.

But he is still young and if he’s going to bang inside in the Big Ten, he is going to need to add that bulk up top. As noted, he has the base to hold his own, but I would be worried about his upper body strength playing in the post for significant minutes year one. Obviously, he still has several months to work on things (and he did call that out as his primary focus), but as of mid-June he’s probably option number three at the five.

Other Takeaways

While Mulvey needs to gain upper body mass, Josh Ogundele is still working to reduce his. “Big Josh,” as my kiddo now refers to him, is noticeably slimmer even than at the end of the season. But he still has plenty of room to improve.

He spoke during the Q&A with kids about his struggles with food upon arriving in the States. He noted that portion sizes are substantially bigger here and access to less healthy snacks and food options are just more prevalent so he’s had to work to change his diet again. He’s continuing to work and I think we see him enter the fall as the clear leader for a true center, though Rebraca or even Murray may be the one to start as the “five.”

In terms of personnel, the only other thing I would note is any glimmer of hope Hawkeye fans had on a return from Joe Wieskamp should be gone. While he still has a locker in the locker room, it was the only one in the place TOTALLY empty. He’s headed to the NBA combine this week and there is no chance he’s back next season.

Oh, and Tony Perkins seems to be everyone on the team’s favorite guy. I’ve loved his athleticism since he was a prospect, but seeing him interact with his teammates makes him even easier to root for. He was always the one cracking jokes or making guys laugh. There was some talk in the comment section here about him potentially being frustrated by the return of Bohannon, but he doesn’t seem at all like the kind of kid that’s going to let that get him down.

And speaking of Perkins, he and Kris Murray led us in something I know a lot of people didn’t think Fran had in his repertoire: defensive drills. It wasn’t anything crazy, but yes, they do spend at least some time on defense.

The only other interesting tidbit for me was a response from Connor to a question on recruiting. Someone asked what the one thing he thinks could really help on that front (aside from the obvious McDonald’s bags of cash, of course) and his response was Carver and dedicated facilities.

He noted that he loves Carver and I think most Iowa fans have a special place in their heart for it, but his comment was simply that most of the schools they travel to have nicer and/or newer stadiums. The rest of the facilities might be a wash, but the actual arenas they play in are largely nicer than their home one.

That and several schools now have things like dedicated athlete dorms where the basketball team (and our friends at Kentucky are an example of this) is all together in large, spacious dorm rooms with their own dedicated chef and lounge areas and high end amenities (I believe the NCAA allows these sorts of benefits provided at least half the inhabitants are non-athletes - so if you have 13 basketball players there you need 14 other students in the same building). So if you’ve got a few million dollars burning a hole in your pocket and really want to put the Hawkeyes on a level playing field, some food for thought.

As I said, it was overall a tremendous experience. If Fran had been able to make it I might have even called it phenomenal. I highly recommend anyone considering it next year to take the plunge. And I absolutely cannot wait to get back to basketball season to see that group of guys on the court and experience Carver in person again with the newest big time Hawkeye fan in our household.