With the start of football season only a few weeks away, Hawkeye fans have understandably fixed their attention on Kirk Ferentz’s team, pouring over practice photos, twitter videos released by the program, and unsourced reports about which players are set for a breakout year. However, the summer of 2022 has also been an extremely productive one for Fran McCaffery and the Iowa basketball program. Earlier this month, McCaffery secured a commitment from four-star small forward Pryce Sandfort, the younger brother of freshman flamethrower Payton Sandfort who provided Iowa with a consistent scoring spark off the bench last season. Pryce is now the third committed player for the class of 2023, joining three-star power forward/center Owen Freeman and criminally overlooked point guard Brock Harding. McCaffery also has the Hawkeyes in the running to land two four-star, big men ranked among the top 100 players in their class: center JP Estrella (#54) and power forward TJ Power (#63).
JP Estrella brought great energy to the UA Next Elite 24 opening workout! @jestrella_13 @UANextBHoops pic.twitter.com/DOYXBSSqv8— Courtside Films (@CourtsideFilms) August 11, 2022
While Iowa basketball has achieved sustained success during the McCaffery era, the team’s on-court production has not necessarily translated to recruiting wins. McCaffery has managed to pull a handful of four-star recruits such as Adam Woodbury, Mike Gessell, Joe Wieskamp, and Tyler Cook, but has never compiled a top-25 recruiting class (according to 247’s composite rankings, the highest recruiting ranking the Hawkeyes have managed during his tenure is 31st in 2012.) More often than not, the story of Iowa’s recruiting has been one of near-misses on blue-chip prospects who go one to have successful collegiate careers elsewhere. From Jalen Suggs to Tyler Ulis, Fran McCaffery has consistently displayed an ability to identify top-flight talent before many of the national powerhouses but has failed to keep elite schools from poaching these players once their exploits become more widely known.
Iowa’s 2023 class could finally signal and end to this trend. The Hawkeyes are currently rated as the 15th best recruiting class in the nation, a ranking which could go even higher if they manage to secure commitments from both Power and Estrella, the latter of whom is considered likely to commit to Iowa on September 2nd. Estrella, Power, and Sandfort each have a chance to land on the Recruiting Services Consensus Index’s final list of the Top 100 recruits for their class. If this occurs, Iowa will have an opportunity to sign its first ever class with three members of this exclusive list (three members of the 2002 Top 100 did end up in Iowa City, but Adam Haluska signed with Iowa State out of high school). While it’s certainly possible that Iowa could lose out on Power and Estrella and see their recruiting ranking fall as blueblood programs rack of commitments from the class’s top players, McCaffery still deserves credit for positioning Iowa to secure a strong class so early in the recruiting cycle.
The sources of Iowa’s recruiting success in this cycle are easy to identify. While a cynic could chalk up to commitments of Sandfort (Waukee, IA) and both Freeman and Harding (Moline, IL) to proximity, McCaffery’s promising courtships of Estrella (Wolfeboro, NH) and Power (Worcester, MA) are firmly rooted in Iowa’s recent success in turning out star big men. In the past two seasons, Iowa sent two elite post players to the NBA in Luka Garza and Keegan Murray; the former was a two-time consensus All-American, Naismith Trophy winner, and 2nd round NBA draft selection, while the latter parlayed his own consensus All-American season into a 4th overall draft selection in June. Both players improved considerably during their time at Iowa, and McCaffery managed to design his offense around each big man despite the wide variance in their skill sets. For promising young post players like Estrella, Power, and Freeman, it is easy to see why the Hawkeyes have emerged as such an attractive option. Not only can Iowa help talented big men grow their skills exponentially, but the program is willing to give these players plenty of opportunities to showcase their skills when they do.
TJ Power scored 24 points & had the game-deciding basket in BABC’s win this morning. Textbook outside shot at 6’8”+, toughness as a rebounder, and can really pass the ball. Head coaches from Iowa, Boston College, and Penn State were all there watching. @TJPower14 @thebabc pic.twitter.com/7zHbgMx2FO— Trent Markwith (@TMarkwith14) April 10, 2022
Iowa being in on Estrella and Power also shows that McCaffery’s work to build relationships with east coast basketball factories is bearing fruit. If Estrella commits to Iowa, he will join fellow Brewster Academy alums Dasonte Bowen and Carter Kingsbury on the Hawkeye roster. Power, meanwhile, is currently playing for the same prep school (Worcester Academy) that produced current Iowa big man Josh Ogundele. If McCaffery lands either big man, Iowa will have managed to sign a recruit from the northeast in five consecutive classes after largely failing to make traction in the region for several years prior despite his historical ties there—a positive sign for a program looking to tap into the northeast’s wealth of basketball talent.
However, perhaps the most encouraging sign for Iowa’s 2023 recruiting class is how well the prospective players fit within Iowa’s system. Pryce Sandfort shows signs of being the same dead-eye shooter his brother is but will enter college as a more versatile scorer thanks to his athleticism and ability to get to the rim. Freeman is a high-energy big man who can score from all over the court, something his high school point guard Harding (a quick guard with an excellent handle who can attack defenders off the dribble) has proven more than adequate at facilitating. Power is a fluid, athletic big man who possesses a surprising number of guard skills and is just as deadly with his left hand as he is with his right. Finally, Estrella, who has grown an absurd eight inches since his freshman year, is only scratching the surface of his potential and projects as someone who could develop into a two-way impact player. Throw in young promising young players like Payton Sandfort and Dasonte Bowen and 2024 commit Cooper Koch (a four-star player ranked 52nd in his recruiting class per 247), and you have a potential roster that not only fits with Iowa’s style of play, but is loaded with as much skill, athleticism, and upside as any McCaffery has put together at Iowa.
Recruiting certainly isn’t everything, and star ratings alone do not necessarily translate to regular or postseason success. However, after years of watching Iowa narrowly miss out on top-tier talent only for those players to thrive playing for other schools, one cannot help but be pleased with the progress Fran McCaffery is making assembling a recruiting class with the type of athlete Iowa regularly struggles to sign. The Hawkeyes, already well-positioned after signing three members to this class, could make real mark by securing commitments from one or both of Estrella and Power. If Iowa manages to land both players, it will be a clear sign that McCaffery is beginning to benefit from his hard-won reputation for developing talent and giving his star players a genuine shot at the NBA. Iowa’s 2023 recruiting class already has the makings of an excellent cohort. When all is said and done, it could end up as McCaffery’s best one yet.