McCaffery brings vast recruiting experience

BY SCOTT MILLER | APRIL 02, 2010 7:30 AM

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During his introductory press conference on Monday, newly minted Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery called his recruiting experience “varied” — a statement validated by a résumé with stops in eastern Pennsylvania, northern Indiana, the Mid-Atlantic region, and New York state.

But perhaps the best example of his recruiting experience came in what he said seconds later.
Pointing over to the wall where a line of former players stood, he recalled his pursuit of Winfield, Iowa, native Jess Settles, the Hawkeyes’ sixth all-time leading scorer, as an assistant at Notre Dame.

He then moved onto his recruitment of Kenyon Murray — even remembering the former Hawkeyes’ hometown of Battle Creek, Mich.

McCaffery missed on both Murray and Settles, who went onto storied careers in Iowa City. But the relationships — ones sowed nearly 20 years ago, no less — were still there.

It’s this philosophy that McCaffery uses every day as a recruiter.

“It’s pretty simple,” he said. “Recruiting is about relationships — relationships with players, coaches, parents, relatives, and I think more importantly, honesty and integrity.”

Murray said, “Knowing him from back in the day at Notre Dame, I know he’s a tireless recruiter, which I think is going to help us.”

On a typical recruiting weekend, McCaffery and wife Margaret McCaffery will host recruits and their families — along with the current roster — for dinner because “we want them to feel comfortable with where they are,” she said.

It’s during these interactions where Fran McCaffery’s recruiting relationships are formed. The head coach said he prefers to deal directly with the recruit and his parents or legal guardians, though he does have a host of AAU contacts who are “important to a certain extent, [but] they don’t define me.”

Van Coleman, who runs the basketball recruiting website hoopmasters.com, said former head coach Todd Lickliter’s staff, on the whole, had a “lack of relationships” in basketball circles. That said, Lickliter inked what some consider a top-30 incoming recruiting class.

McCaffery has spent the days since his hiring calling the currently signed recruits, which includes point guard Ben Brust, forward Cody Larson, shooting guard Devyn Marble, and forward Zach McCabe.

Brust and Larson could not be reached for comment, but both Marble and McCabe spoke about their recent conversations with McCaffery.

“We were just talking about how I would fit into his system,” Marble said. “He seemed to know a lot about my game, so that was a good thing. … Right now, I’m still leaning toward being a Hawkeye.

“He basically told me that he wanted me to go to Iowa and that he wanted the other recruits to come to Iowa, too,” McCabe said in describing his 15-minute talk on Monday with McCaffery. McCabe said he has never wavered on his commitment to Iowa since Lickliter’s firing on March 15.

The senior at Bishop Heelan High School in Sioux City recently won his second-consecutive state title. He’s the lone Iowan in the Hawkeyes’ 2010 recruiting class.

On Monday, Settles, the former Hawkeye great who McCaffery recruited while at Notre Dame, said the program’s future is dependent on McCaffery’s ability to snag in-state prospects such as McCabe.

“We’ve got to keep the [Jason] Bohannons, [Nick] Collisons, and the [Kyle] Korvers, and the [Raef] LaFrentzes,” Settles said. “He’s really got to get back in the trenches and get the young kids believing in the Black and Gold.”

An opportunity for McCaffery to do that will come with the class of 2012, which boasts five in-state prospects who can play “high-major basketball,” Coleman said.

But it won’t stop with in-state players. McCaffery will have to use his Rolodex of contacts all over the country, compiled over a nearly three-decade-long coaching career, to make Iowa a national power once again.

“One of the keys here is that you don’t always have to get a top-25 player,” Coleman said. “But if you can get a top-50 player, a top-100 player, and they want to be here, and they want to work, … that’s the thing you’ve got to work for here.”

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