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McCaffery set to write his own chapter

BY IAN MARTIN | NOVEMBER 12, 2010 7:20 AM

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Fran McCaffery wasn't a coach for the first seven months of his tenure. He was an eraser.

McCaffery toured Iowa I-clubs and talked with alumni about how they could change Iowa basketball. He re-recruited Roy Devyn Marble and persuaded then-Siena recruit Melsahn Basabe to come with him to Iowa City. He toured residence halls with his players to generate interest among Iowa students about a basketball team many of them had never seen in person.

All of these things were done to erase the negative environment left by former coach Todd Lickliter after his failed attempt at taking over a once-prominent program.

Now, it's been more than half a year since McCaffery has been hired, and he knows what's going to get people coming back to an empty Carver-Hawkeye.

"I think my conversations in the last seven months have been pretty clear that people want to see a little faster pace," McCaffery said. "But at the same time, when you're talking about fans who understand the game, it's not enough just to play fast. You've got to know what you're doing."

And if history is any indication, McCaffery and his squads know what they're doing. The man nicknamed "White Magic" during his playing time at Penn hasn't had a losing season since 2003-04 at North Carolina-Greensboro, and he has never had a team score fewer than 71 points per game in his 14 years as a head coach. The Hawkeyes averaged just over 60 points per game last season.
ESPN.com writer Pat Forde even called McCaffery the best relocated coach in his annual season preview.

"No team figures to have a bigger stylistic makeover than the Hawkeyes," Forde wrote. "Moving from the plodding style of Todd Lickliter to McCaffery's pressure game."

Now, the team is just two days away from its official season-opener against South Dakota State, and all of the hype about McCaffery and the up-tempo style will go away, and the fresh start will become official.

But after one exhibition game — in which the team showed off its drastic change in style as it defeated Illinois-Springfield, 111-66, and a month of practice — players feel that the team is unofficially much better than last season.

"We had no groove," sophomore point guard Cully Payne said about last year's team. "There was no 'He's my go-to guy' or 'He does this real well.' There was no kind of sense of playing together, which I definitely think we have this year."

While McCaffery's hiring has somewhat reinvigorated the Hawkeye fanbase, it may have reinvigorated the downtrodden players even more. Players found that their new coach's up-tempo scheme works well — at least against a Division-II opponent.

And the squad has begun to develop characteristics previously missing.

"We didn't win big and not play well [against Illinois-Springfield]. We played well," Payne said. "It gives us a confidence booster going into that first game. Which, I think especially at Iowa, is one of the big things with us struggling last year — confidence."


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