McCaffery meets prospective fans in Hillcrest


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The men's basketball season doesn't officially begin until Oct. 15, but head coach Fran McCaffery is already fired up — and he wants the Hawkeye students to be, too.

McCaffery visited Hillcrest on Sunday for the first of three stops in what the Hawks Nest student section is calling the "Great Campus Tour 2010." The tour concludes with stops at Burge and Mayflower the next two Sundays.

The event was a chance for the first-year coach to sell his brand of hoops to students who have become somewhat disillusioned with Iowa basketball in recent years. McCaffery acknowledged the Hawkeyes' past difficulties, citing Iowa's losses and deliberate style of play under former coach Todd Lickliter.

"Last year's team wasn't very experienced; nor were we very deep, and nor were we very big," McCaffery said. "That's not really a great combination. This year's team, we've got a little more size, a little more experience, and a little more depth. We've still got some work to do, but I think you're really going to like this team."

The 50-year-old from Philadelphia promised the Hawkeyes will run the floor and be a legitimate contender in the difficult Big Ten. But, he said, the latter will only be achieved with strong fan support.

"What we want to create is a difficult environment for the opposition, and the best way to do that is with our students," McCaffery said. "They make this place [Carver-Hawkeye Arena] hard to play in."

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The tour, organized by the Iowa athletic department and the Hawks Nest, is McCaffery's way of creating that environment. He fielded questions from the audience, introduced them to a handful of his players, and talked about how he eventually wants to mold Iowa into a national champion.

Bryce Carlson, the fundraising director for the Hawks Nest, said McCaffery has been ambitious and involved from the very beginning, starting with a meeting with the board the day after his introductory press conference.

"When he got hired, [McCaffery] sat our executive board down and said, 'I'm going to do everything it takes to make sure our students are on board with this team,' " Carlson said. "He's showed it — he comes out to these events, he's a great public speaker, and he really gets people fired up."

The appeal to students began shortly after McCaffery's hire, with a meet-and-greet in March.

"Ikind of lost interest toward the end of [last] year, but I think I'll stick with Fran and go to a lot more of the basketball games," then-freshman Christopher Rickert said.

Carlson said the Hawks Nest felt a campus tour would be beneficial for McCaffery, who — despite his 251-177 lifetime record and five appearances in the NCAA Tournament — wasn't a household name when he was hired in the spring. By introducing him to students, Carlson said the Hawks Nest is spreading the word about "the key to what Iowa needs in the basketball program."

The audience of around 100 people was encouraged to buy season basketball tickets at the event, and — though the line for free pizza was somewhat longer — a reasonable number of students seemed to take to the idea. The Hawks Nest also gave out free T-shirts and mouse pads, and McCaffery said it's all part of getting the Hawkeyes excited about basketball again.

"Every chance you get to reach out to our students — they're going to talk to their friends, and that's how we're going to build it," he said. "Ultimately, it may get them to come, but what we do on the court is going to determine whether they come back."

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