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Men’s hoops potential draws crowd to youth camp

BY SETH ROBERTS | JUNE 21, 2011 7:20 AM

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Andrew Francis stood near the basketball courts at the Field House, dripping with sweat.

The Iowa men’s basketball assistant coach hadn’t been playing hoops and hadn’t been in a high-pressure conversation with a prized recruit — he hadn’t been doing anything besides talking and demonstrating a simple drill.

So why was he sweating?

Francis had just finished giving an eight-minute speech to roughly 200 members of the team’s annual summer camp, ranging in age from 8 to 13. The kids were full of energy and jostled each other when Francis asked for volunteers. They filled the gym with cheers when one of their peers made a jump shot. The second-year assistant coach had to work hard just to be heard and said as much after his speech was over.

“I tried to feed off their energy — they’re a lot younger than me,” he said and laughed. “It was great to see them so involved and wanting to do things.”

Francis said he thinks that involvement will prove to be a common theme throughout the camp, which started on Monday and will run through Thursday afternoon. He played a similar role in the 2010 session, and said that, while enrollment numbers have been steady across the board, he has seen an increase in the number of younger campers this year.

He said the increase can be attributed to the excitement and anticipation that appears to surround the 2011-12 Hawkeye team, which returns all but two players from last year’s roster and boosted attendance by 20 percent over the previous season. A lot of that excitement has to do with the playing style implemented by second-year head coach Fran McCaffery, Francis said.

“The direction of the program is generating a lot of good excitement and a great vibe throughout the state,” he said as he wiped sweat away from his nose. “It’s great to see the kids are getting excited about Iowa basketball again, and [that’s] what we’re hoping to bring back on a national level — not just in the Midwest, but some of the things we want to do across the country [is] to get kids excited [and] get them thinking that going to Iowa is a cool thing.”

Senior shooting guard Matt Gatens, who attended the camps himself when he was growing up in Iowa City, said he had talked to several campers who asked him about specific games they had attended in the past year. No matter how familiar the kids were with the team’s wins and losses, though, he said he enjoyed watching their faces when players like 6-9 forward Andrew Brommer strolled into the gym.

“It’s funny to see the reactions to all the different guys and how tall they are,” he said. “That’s definitely not a normal thing for them around their schools or around their towns, to see a guy who’s 6-9 or 6-10.”

McCaffery welcomed the campers to the session on Monday morning before video coordinator and administrative assistant Ryan Bowen took over to organize a series of scrimmages before lunch.

Francis delivered his address, which centered on the importance of listening and sportsmanship, after the meal. The kids were then broken up into several groups and spent the afternoon rotating between drill stations run by players and team assistants.

Despite the busy schedule, sophomore forward Zach McCabe said the campers found plenty of time to pepper him with questions. The Sioux City native said one question, in particular, was important enough to come up over and over again.

“[They keep asking], ‘Can you dunk?’ ” he said and laughed.


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