In case you missed it, the Big Ten conference hosted media day for men’s and women’s basketball this week in Minneapolis. It’s not a terribly exciting event and not much real news comes from such things, but in a year where the football team is falling all over itself to drive fan apathy, basketball news is a breath of fresh air.
So to is the tone and candor of both men’s coach Fran McCaffery and women’s coach Lisa Bluder. While football coach Kirk Ferentz has been in the Bill Belichick mold preferring to stick to non-answers and minutes-long diatribes full of fluff, McCaffery and Bluder tend to come to the media with excitement and looking to promote their programs.
We saw a fair amount of that in Chicago this week and perhaps there is no better brand ambassador for Iowa hoops than women’s star Caitlin Clark. While watching NFL football on Sunday night with my oldest son, a Gatorade commercial featuring Connecticut’s Paige Bueckers came on and I thought to myself, “Caitlin Clark would be great in something like that.”
On Monday, the great minds at Nike agreed as Clark was named one of just five collegiate hoopers either male or female to ink an NIL deal with the shoe giant.
We’re excited to announce the newest student athletes to join our Nike family: Caitlin Clark, Bronny James, Haley Jones, DJ Wagner and Juju Watkins.— Nike Basketball (@nikebasketball) October 10, 2022
Hit that ❤️ to show them some love and welcome them to the Nike Basketball fam. pic.twitter.com/xIPZN2raOS
It’s an incredible honor for Clark and a great selling point for Bluder and the Hawkeyes. No financial details have been disclosed, but Clark is proof that a player can come to Iowa, excel, and be rewarded financially.
A big part of the marketability of Clark, however, goes beyond her game. That aspect is incredible, but she’s also a very humble winner who is quick to point out the help she gets from others and pull everyone around her up to her level. That was on display in Minneapolis on Tuesday as the superstar sat down with the Big Ten Network to talk about what makes her so great.
To that end, Bluder was asked during her time at the podium about how Clark has handled all the attention and newfound money. The answer is unsurprising.
I haven’t noticed a lot of difference with Caitlin. If you know Caitlin off the court, she’s probably one of the goofiest individuals I’ve ever been around. She’s humble, she’s fun. You enjoy being around her.
I think in her situation, it’s going to be hard to handle that. I mean, you are getting all these NIL deals, but at the same time Caitlin is the perfect person to handle it.
There’s no jealousy there because her teammates know she has worked hard for it. They consider her one of the best players in the country. She deserves to reap the benefits of that.
Beyond the humbleness, Clark has the charisma you want in both your paid endorser and your superstar athlete. She’s got the balance between being down to earth and more confident and outgoing than you’ll ever be.
That, too, was on display Tuesday when Clark decided to jump off the player panel and into the crowd of media members to pick up a mic and ask a question of her head coach.
Clark wasn’t alone in getting in on some shenanigans at media day. In what seemed to be a theme for both the men and women, Clark’s front court mate Monika Czinano got in on the fun with one of the giant cutouts that somehow made it to Minneapolis.
That loose attitude from Czinano and Clark is exactly the vibe put off by all of the Iowa men’s team representatives in Minneapolis. For Fran’s group, it was Connor and Patrick McCaffery, as well as Kris Murray and Tony Perkins in attendance.
All seem to have the charisma factor heading into an important transition season as Iowa moves past its third straight season with a national player of the year candidate. The Hawkeyes seemed to have no stress about this season’s expectations on Tuesday.
Part of that laid back attitude likely comes from just how close to the entire process two of Iowa’s 13 scholarship players have been their entire lives. The word nepotism has gotten a lot of play of late given the train wreck taking place within the Iowa football team, but for Fran McCaffery and his two sons, having the program referred to as The Family Business doesn’t seem to have the same negative connation.
That’s likely due to both McCaffery sons playing their role and not stealing time unwarranted for their abilities. They’re varying degrees of good, but both are integral parts of the Hawkeye family that continues to churn out top-half of the conference finishes with more offense than Kirk Ferentz would care to witness in a lifetime.
So yeah, dad stays dad sometimes.
And sometimes dad is busy being the head coach when you need him.
As for what to expect on the court this season, it’s going to be a wild ride. During his question and answer session, Coach McCaffery was quick to point out the turnover at some key spots, as well as the lack of size inside as a major hurdle coming into the season.
As far as our team, I’m excited about this team. I think everybody that stands there at this time says the same thing. I said this last year. I didn’t know what we had. Everybody last year was in a new role. I had never coached a team before where everybody on that team was in a new role. We ended up doing really well.
This is a different team. We’re not as big as we’ve been, but I think we’re every bit as deep and versatile. I’m really excited about the blend of youth and experience we have.
We have three starters returning. We put together, without question, the most difficult schedule that I’ve ever put in front of our team. So obviously I feel like they can handle it. I’m excited for the challenge.
But that can be overcome, even with a grueling schedule that features non-conference matchups against Seton Hall, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Iowa State and Duke in addition to the always difficult Big Ten slate.
A big part of the optimism for the 2022-2023 season is an expected leap from Kris Murray. After watching twin brother Keegan make the jump from role player to superstar a year ago, the expectation almost universally has been that Kris will follow a similar path this year.
McCaffery thinks Kris has what it takes to lead this team.
I think what you would have expected to see. He was terrific last year. I think he’s had a really interesting spring. He worked out with his brother, put his name in the NBA stuff. I think that was good for him. Did really well.
I’m really proud of him because I think it’s safe to say that he probably could have taken a two-way deal, perhaps been in the league. But he’s betting on himself to come back and be a first round pick. I have a lot of respect for people that do that. It was his choice.
It will be the first time in his career he hasn’t played with his brother. Obviously every team, I saw him play a lot growing up, same age as my son Patrick, since fourth grade on I’ve watched the two of them grow up. They’ve always been on the same team. Now they’re not.
We’re thrilled for Keegan, but we’re thrilled for Kris. Kris is going to have a spectacular season. He’s playing with great confidence. His body looks different, much stronger. Shooting the ball with great confidence, posting up more, driving the ball. He was always a good defender with his length, always a good rebounder, and we need him to do that.
But he also thinks Kris is not Keegan and will lead this team in his own way. When asked about the comparison, here’s what McCaffery had to say about the Murray twins.
I think that’s a fair assessment, but I don’t think it’s true. Like if you’re around these two guys, they’re different. Their games are different. Their personalities are different. Kris is really a confident guy. Kris is probably more verbal than Keegan was.
I kind of wish he could just be himself and not continually be asked that same question. He’s a completely different human being. They just look alike. If Aaron White was replacing Keegan Murray, we wouldn’t be asking these questions.
I said, it’s a fair question. They look alike. Keegan was so spectacular, I think obviously it’s something we all hope that Kris puts up those kind of numbers, and he may, but he may not.
I can tell you this, he’s going to be really good. I do feel like he’s going to end up being a first round pick.
Fran is known for being a bit hyperbolic when talking about his players, but after churning out NPOY candidates each of the last three seasons, it might be time to start listening. And he isn’t alone in his assessment of Kris.
The “other” Murray was picked as this year’s top breakout candidate by Andy Katz on Tuesday.
The Hawkeye men will open their season in a little under a month as they play host to Bethune-Cookman on Monday, November 7th at 6pm CT in a game that will be televised on ESPNU.
The women’s team will follow them in their season opener against Southern at 8:30pm on November 7th.