Connor McCaffery turning heads

BY KYLE MANN | JUNE 24, 2014 5:00 AM

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The Hawkeye State has never exactly been a hot bed of basketball talent, but recently, with names such as Harrison Barnes, Marcus Paige, and Adam Woodbury receiving national attention while in high school, top talent can be found in Iowa.

Now, that talent is closer to the Hawkeyes than ever.

Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery has coached in the NCAA for 29 years, and when he arrived in Iowa City from Siena — after tenures at North Carolina-Greensboro and Lehigh — he brought with him one of the most promising young basketball players the area has seen in quite some time.

Standing 6-5, high-school sophomore-to-be Connor McCaffery is coming off about as good of a season as a freshman basketball player can hope for.

The point guard captured the starting role and helped the West High Trojans to a third-straight state championship. In the title game, he scored only 3 points on three shots, but he dished out 7 assists and got all four of his fellow starters 13 points apiece.

“Winning the state championship this year was awesome,” Connor said. “Celebraing with my teammates was so great.”

Although Connor is only a freshman, West coach Steve Bergmann knew he had a special player. “We had a three-year returning starter at point guard with [Northern Iowa’s] Wyatt Lohaus,” Bergmann said. “But it became pretty obvious that [Connor] could play point, too, and that we’d be a better team moving Wyatt over to the wing. That says quite a bit.”

Perhaps nobody knew, however, exactly how special McCaffery might be until ESPN’s Recruiting Nation released its first prospect rankings for the Class of 2017, with McCaffery listed as the No. 24 player in the nation and awarded the sought-after five- star rating.

If he were a senior today, McCaffery would be the first five-star out of Iowa since Barnes in 2010 and the most highly regarded recruit from Iowa City since Matt Gatens in 2008.

So how does the teenager take it all in? “I think he handles the attention that he gets really well,” mother Margaret McCaffery said. “He’s a mature kid. He’s been around all of this so much that he isn’t totally awestruck.”

A former basketball player herself at Notre Dame, Margaret McCaffery notes that Connor can’t take the accolades too seriously yet.

“He knows he’s got to work really hard,” she said. “He’s seen what it’s like to play at the highest level at Iowa. Those kids work really hard. “It’s not like you can be real cocky, because someone’s going to get you at some point.”

As a coach’s son with access to Division-I practice facilities, he has an advantage in terms of work ethic and knowledge of the game. His coach noticed it early enough to start him as a freshman, but Fran McCaffery has observed his son’s advanced basketball IQ since he was playing in YMCA leagues.

“There aren’t a lot of 6-foot-5, 195-pound fresh- men, but I think the thing that sets him apart is his understanding of how to play,” Fran McCaffery said. “He sees the floor, he knows the strengths and weaknesses of his teammates, and knows what his coach wants. He figures out what the opposition is trying to do and is way ahead and has the ability to make [his teammates] more comfortable.”

All signs point to his son becoming a great player, so there’s a $1 million question for Hawkeye fans: “I’m fairly certain that’s where it’ll end up,” Fran McCaffery said. “He’ll play for me.”

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