Archive for April, 2010
Before welcoming recruit Melsahn Basabe and his mother to the Iowa campus today, new Hawkeye basketball coach Fran McCaffery spent some time with his former players at Siena. McCaffery attended Siena's basketball banquet on Monday night and spent the weekend in New York enjoying some time with his wife and children. McCaffery credited his wife, Margaret, with keeping things together as the family transitions from its home in New York to a new start in Iowa City. "Margaret has had to shoulder a great deal of responsibility,'' McCaffery told the Albany Times-Union at Monday's banquet. "Getting right to the end of the school year, selling a house, buying a house, those kinds of things she has been handling. That enables me to do my job.'' Margaret McCaffery told the publication that she looked at 18 houses in a single day and visited five schools the next during a quick trip to Iowa City. "It's almost overwhelming,'' she said. Fran McCaffery returned to New York last Thursday and reportedly spent much of the weekend being a father. He attended basketball and baseball games of his 10-year-old son, Patrick, and traveled to Pennsylvania to watch his 11-year-old son, Connor, play in a basketball tournament. McCaffery's former players welcomed the appearance by their former coach. Senior Edwin Ubiles told the Times-Union it was important to him to have McCaffery present, saying, "He's been not just a coach, but like a father to us.'' By this morning, McCaffery was on his way back to work in Iowa, where recruiting and filling the remaining assistant's position on his coaching staff are among his priorities. In addition to Basabe, Iowa is involved with 6-foot-9 power foward Kevin Panzer of Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo, Calif. The Hawkeyes continue to search for backcourt help as well and McCaffery expects to fill at least two and possibly more of the four available scholarships he has to work with.
College basketball players aren't the only ones moving around in the spring. It's the time of year when assistant coaches frequently find themselves in the mix for new challenges as well and three coaches with Iowa ties are making news this week. Gary Close, a long-time Tom Davis assistant at Iowa and current member of Bo Ryan's staff at Wisconsin, interviewed late last week for the head coaching vacancy at Cornell University. The Ivy League program on Friday hired Virginia Tech assistant Bill Courtney to replace new Boston College coach Steve Donahue as the head of its program. An Iowa assistant coach of a more recent vintage, former Todd Lickliter assistant LaVall Jordan was one of three finalists for a vacancy on the staff at Michigan. Wolverines coach John Beilein announced today that he has hired Western Michigan assistant Bacari Alexander for the job. Jordan was earlier in the mix for an assistant's position at Ohio State that was filled earlier this week with the hiring of former Tulane head coach Dave Dickerson. A third former Hawkeye assistant has landed a new job. Billy Garrett, a member of the Iowa staff in Steve Alford's final season and the primary reason that David Palmer transferred to the Hawkeye program, has been named to newly-hired Oliver Purnell's staff at DePaul. Garrett briefly followed Alford to New Mexico before scoring an assistant's spot at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
Fran McCaffery and the Big Ten have made the right calls in the past couple of days. McCaffery named former Hawkeye Kirk Speraw to his staff earlier this afternoon, a hire who spent the past 17 seasons as a head coach at the Division I level at Central Florida. Speraw more than proved his abilities as a coach while leading the Knights to four NCAA berths during his tenure at the Orlando school which split time between the Atlantic Sun and Conference USA during his time there. A two-year Iowa letterwinner who was selected as the most inspirational player on Iowa's most recent Big Ten championship team in 1979 -- yes, it's been 31 years -- Speraw also worked as a graduate assistant on Lute Olson's staff during the 1979-80 season, when Iowa made its most recent Final Four appearance. Speraw knows Iowa. He was raised in Sioux City and his daughter is currently a student at Iowa. His time as a coach, not only at Central Florida but as an assistant under Lon Kruger at Florida and as a head coach at the junior-college level, provides McCaffery with the type of experience he will find helpful as he leads a Big Ten program. Speraw knows the Midwest. His Central Florida team had three former Chicago area preps on its roster last season, AJ Rompza of Chicago, Nik Garcia of Evanston and Marcus Jordan of Deerfield. Iowa's ability to recruit the talent-rich Chicago area is critical to the program's chances for success. The Hawkeyes need to be a viable option for recruits from the Illinois prep ranks if the program desires to compete in the upper division of the Big Ten. The hiring also fulfills a pledge that McCaffery made to give former Hawkeyes a hard look as he formed his Iowa staff. McCaffery isn't the only one who made a right call recently. The Big Ten made the right decision in denying Ben Brust a waiver from its rules, something that would have allowed other league schools to offer him a scholarship after he was released from his letter of intent by Iowa following the firing of Todd Lickliter. It was right for Brust to question the rule and seek a waiver, but to have granted a waiver in this instance simply would have opened a Pandora's box in the future, opening the door for any coach in any Big Ten program to attempt to poach players from another conference school whenever a coaching change occurs. Even if coaches don't speak directly with a high school student when a change occurs, don't doubt for a minute that many are planting seeds in the ears of AAU, summer league and high school coaches whenever a coaching change happens. Just in case, you know, wink, wink, a kid might want to make a change. The rule, which has been on the books for decades, is designed specifically to prevent that from happening. The twist in this case is that Brust has not actually attended a class at Iowa yet, but he did put his signature on a document that states he was accepting a scholarship from Iowa with an understanding that the scholarship offer came from the school, regardless of who was coaching the program. While it is no secret that kids commit to schools because of the relationships they develop with head coaches and more often, assistants, there needs to be some level of accountability in the process and thankfully, the Big Ten decided not grant Brust the waiver. Brust, who continues to look at Iowa and other schools, can re-sign with Iowa and receive a scholarship. He also could pay his own way to any Big Ten school just like any other student and still compete as a walk-on, as Luke Recker did at Iowa following his transfer from Indiana several years ago. That's his call. He's also free to sign with more than 330 other schools across the country. So, Brust has plenty of options left but if he wants to play in the Big Ten on scholarship, he will have to play for the program he pledged his allegiance to five months ago.
The situation two players who signed with the Iowa basketball program in November find themselves in illustrates exactly why it is important for student-athletes and their parents to familiarize themselves with the rules and all potential ramifications before signing national letters of intent. Making a college choice is a big thing for any athlete, as it should be, and it involves more than signing on the bottom line and smiling for the cameras at a news conference held in a room full of family and friends. Beyond the fact that a signed letter ends the recruiting process - at least in theory - it also creates an agreement between the recruit and the institution that both parties agree to abide by. For Hawkeye basketball recruits Ben Brust and Cody Larson, signing with Iowa in November also tied the pair to applicable rules that Big Ten institutions agree to comply with. One of those rules prohibits athletes who accept a scholarship from one league institution from receiving a scholarship from another Big Ten institution at any point in their collegiate careers. The decades-old rule makes sense. It is designed to discourage transfers within the conference and limit the potential of top programs to simply restock their own talent pool by cherry picking top players away from other programs within the league. For example, imagine how fans would have reacted if Tyler Smith would have left Iowa for Illinois or Michigan State or if Aaron Fuller showed up in the future playing for Ohio State. Other conferences have similar regulations. The Big 12 requires student-athletes to sit two years - one year beyond the NCAA mandated one year - if they transfer within the conference. A similar rule in the Missouri Valley is one reason you did not hear UNI or Drake mentioned in the recruitment of former Evansville guard Kaylon Williams while he was at Kirkwood CC this past year. The twist with Brust and Larson is that they haven't even attended a class at Iowa yet, but by signing their letter of intent they agreed to play by the rules that Iowa and 10 other Big Ten institutions have agreed to live with. Iowa has granted Brust and Larson what director of athletics Gary Barta describes as a "full release'' from the letters the pair signed in November. The releases were granted because Brust and Larson wanted to explore options following the firing of Todd Lickliter as the Hawkeye basketball coach last month. Both players expressed a willingness to be re-recruited by Iowa, but welcomed other suitors. A number of Big Ten schools, looking for athletes to fill their spring recruiting classes, were among those placing quick calls to both Larson and Brust. Indiana coach Tom Crean flew to Sioux Falls, S.D., to meet with Larson two days after Iowa announced his release. Michigan has expressed an interest in the 6-foot-9 forward as well. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan and Minnesota coach Tubby Smith were among those who quickly called Brust, a shooting guard. Ryan set up a visit for last weekend, while Smith called off his planned visit after Big Ten officials indicated that league transfer rules still applied to the pair and could preclude Big Ten schools from offering scholarships to either athlete. Parents of both players are reportedly unhappy with the situation they now find themselves in. They've asked the Big Ten for a waiver, which is being considered. But instead of pointing fingers at Iowa, which gave the athletes a release it was under no obligation to give, they probably should be looking in a mirror with a better understanding of what can happen when you fail to read the fine print. It's a painful lesson that hopefully others can learn from in the future. As for Brust and Larson, they will likely land on their feet. They still have offers from Iowa if they choose to play in the Big Ten, but other opportunities exist. Boston College is among the schools that have been in contact with Brust, while Larson has welcomed recruiters from Florida and Kansas into the family home in recent days.
It's been a little over 24 hours since college basketball coaches have been able to meet face-to-face with recruits again and Iowa coach Fran McCaffery isn't wasting any time. Friday, the new Hawkeye coach made his first recruiting stop in the Quad-Cities. McCaffery visited with Rock Island junior Chasson Randle, a two-time all-state pick who also entertained coaches from Stanford and Boston College on the first day the latest opportunity coaches have to meet with future prospects. McCaffery's day also included a trip to the Detroit area where he met face-to-face with Devyn Marble, the last of the four players to sign with Iowa in November to meet in person with the new Hawkeye coach. The pair had spoke on the phone prior to their face-to-face meeting. Saturday's schedule was equally busy for McCaffery. He visited in Iowa City with a pair of Cedar Rapids preps who are beginning to attract plenty of attention from recruiters. Josh Oglesby, a 6-foot-5 guard from Cedar Rapids Washington, and 6-8 Jarrod Uthoff of Cedar Rapids Jefferson both met with McCaffery during midday meetings at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The pair were in town for a weekend AAU basketball tournament that is taking place at the Iowa Field House and while NCAA rules preclude McCaffery from watching them compete, he took the opportunity to meet with both on campus later in the day.
With coaching changes, player departures and recruits mulling their options, the travel agents in Iowa City and elsewhere in the Midwest should be having a good spring simply by dealing with the comings and goings of the Iowa basketball program. For those of you scoring along at home, here's a breakdown of where things are at as April reaches its midpoint: * Current Iowa coach Fran McCaffery is still looking for two assistants to complete his staff. He is interviewing at least three prospective candidates this week. McCaffery expects to be on the recruiting trail once a NCAA dead period ends later this week. * Iowa assistant Andrew Francis will be out and about looking for talent as well. The Hawkeyes have as many as four scholarships to fill and Francis indicated during a Tuesday teleconference that Iowa plans to fill as many as possible "with the right fits'' during the month-long spring signing period that opened today. * Former Hawkeye assistants LaVall Jordan and Joel Cornette are being mentioned as possible candidates for an opening on the Ohio State staff. The Columbus Dispatch reports that both are under consideration as a replacement for Alan Major, who left the OSU staff for the head coaching position at Charlotte last week. Jordan and Cornette both played for Ohio State coach Thad Matta at Butler. * It appears that Arizona State is interested in speaking with Aaron Fuller, the Hawkeye who announced his departure from the Hawkeye program last week and was granted a release from his scholarship. If he lands in Tempe, he'll be joining former Iowa commit Chance Creekmur of Marshalltown, who de-committed from Iowa in March of 2009 and is expected to sign with the Sun Devils today. * AAU coaches - who always seem to find a way to surface in situations like this - seem to be doing what they can to drum up opportunities for Ben Brust and Cody Larson, two players who asked for and were granted releases from their letters of intent with Iowa in the past week. Both have indicated a willingness to be re-recruited by Iowa, which McCaffery has said will happen. Both are also fielding other opportunities although face-to-face meetings will have to wait until the dead period in recruiting ends. Searching for a big man, Indiana coach Tom Crean and assistant Tim Buckley, a former Iowa assistant, reportedly visited Larson's family in Sioux Falls, S.D., on Sunday before the dead period began. Brust has not been able to speak with any suitors yet, but his AAU coach Mike Weinstein told the Chicago Tribune that he has fielded inquiries from Wisconsin, California, Boston College, Wake Forest, Colorado and Nebraska in addition to the Hawkeyes. Both Larson and Brust have indicated that they plan to take multiple visits before reaching a final decision. * Not all of the traffic is out of Iowa City these days. The move of McCaffery and Francis to Iowa has attracted the interest of pair of players who initally signed with Siena. Melsahn Basabe, a 6-foot-7 power forward from St. Mark's Prep School in Southborough, Mass., and 6-6 swingman Trenity Burdine of Reading, Pa., both signed with the Saints in the fall but are reviewing their situations following the coaching change there. Iowa is on the radar for both. * A couple of junior college players who Iowa fans spent a lot of time talking about over the winter are signing elsewhere. Kurt Alexander, a Canadian guard who played for Iowa Central CC and was being looked at by the former Iowa staff, is expected to sign with Drake today, while Kirkwood CC guard Kaylon Williams, who led the Missouri Valley in assists as a freshman at Evansville, is expected to sign with Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
New Iowa assistant basketball coach Andrew Francis hosted a teleconference with Iowa media members this morning. Topics covered a wide range of issues. He said the roster changes -- both the departure of Aaron Fuller and the decisions of incoming recruits Ben Brust and Cody Larson to seek a release from their signed letters of intent -- are a byproduct of the uncertainty created by the coaching change. "Players wonder if they fit the system and they may feel like they are not one of the new guy's guys,'' Francis said. "I think players to expect a certain level of change and that creates some uncertainty. What has happened has to be expected. It's up to us to lay the foundation and build on it.'' New coach Fran McCaffery is a known commodity to Francis. He spent three seasons working with the new Hawkeye coach at Siena. Francis was asked about McCaffery as a person. "With coach, what you see is what you get. That's one thing I respect about him,'' Francis said. "He is a very knowledgeable person and it's interesting to see how he gets that knowledge across to the players. He's not a coach who plays a ton of head games. He'll lay out exactly what he wants to do, tell guys this is how to do it and then asks how are we going to make that happen?'' Francis said McCaffery is every bit the family man he has been portrayed as and said his primary objective is to prepare his players not only for basketball, but for life. Currently the only assistant hired by McCaffery, Francis has found the hours to be long during his first days on the job but welcomes the chance to help fill roster vacancies and get to know Iowa's returning players. "It's been a whirlwind,'' he said. Francis has spent a lot of time on the phone talking with AAU and high school coaches, looking for talent to fill the Hawkeye roster. He said simply that Iowa is seeking to find the best available players to fill its remaining scholarships. He declined to say if Iowa will fill all of its open offers during the spring signing period that begins Wednesday or if it may hold one of those scholarships for the 2011 recruiting class.
If nothing else, the departure of Aaron Fuller leaves Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery with some room to manuever during upcoming days as the Hawkeyes look to fill open scholarships. Iowa now has two to work with during the spring signing period that begins Wednesday and possibly as many as four if Cody Larson and Ben Brust opt to begin their college careers elsewhere. With only one senior on next year's roster, Jarryd Cole, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. It gives McCaffery an opportunity to begin shaping the Hawkeye roster in a form that fits the up-tempo brand of basketball that he expects to implement. He and his staff may well find themselves with an opportunity to put their imprint on the program in a much more timely fashion than they otherwise would have. That's not a bad thing at all as Iowa looks to recover from a 10-22 season. As for Larson and Brust, they'll be able to step back, survey the landscape and try to figure out if Iowa is still the best fit for them. That's not bad either. Both have indicated they want to be re-recruited by the Hawkeyes and McCaffery welcomes that opportunity. Larson and Brust know the university. They know the Iowa City community. They know the returning players. What they don't know is what shape McCaffery's staff will take and what assistants will be coaching them over time. As athletes, their future is on the line with the decision they make. It's not unreasonable for them to want to step back and see where things are at. Like McCaffery and the open scholarships he now has to work with, Larson and Brust want a little room to manuever. For an 18- or 19-year old with a lot on the line and uncertainty in their minds, that's a mature approach to take.
So much for the honeymoon. Aaron Fuller and Cody Larson delivered a 1-2 punch to new coach Fran McCaffery and the Iowa basketball program Friday, providing a quick snapshot of the reality of college basketball in 2010 as much as anything. Roster changes have become the norm when a coaching change takes place and it is important that McCaffery surround himself with the talent he wants as quickly as possible. One of the shortcomings of his predecessor was that he spent two seasons trying to fit round pegs into square holes before the roster underwent the kind of housecleaning that most new coaches make immediately. This can be and needs to become an opportunity for McCaffery to put his stamp on the program in a quicker fashion than might have occured otherwise. Iowa now has at least two scholarships - three if Larson chooses no to re-sign - to work with for the spring signing period that begins Wednesday. It might also be possible to bank one of the scholarships for 2011, doubling the number he would have had. Fuller's decision to transfer comes a couple of months after the sophomore repeatedly denied that he had any intention of leaving the program. Fuller was one of the players who expressed displeasure with former coach Todd Lickliter during discussions with athletics director Gary Barta in early March, a week before Lickliter was shown the door. Fuller has opted to decline opportunities to speak with the media in the weeks since and even declined to comment to the university's own website when asked to comment about his initial impressions of McCaffery. In reality, his silence spoke volumes. It came one year after Jake Kelly denied he was going anywhere -- and left -- and three years after Tyler Smith said he was staying put -- and left. Spot a trend? It's the nature of the beast in college hoops these days. It's easy to see why Fuller might be a bit tired of the drama in Iowa City these days. Who isn't? But instead of being part of the solution, he has chosen to be part of the problem. The irony may well be found in upcoming weeks as Fuller looks for a place closer to home to play. Transfers at Arizona and Arizona State - two programs that showed little to no interest in recruiting Fuller when he was a high school player in nearby Mesa - have now left scholarship openings that the blossoming forward may now fill. Larson has said he welcomes the chance to be re-recruited by McCaffery, but wants to shop around a bit. That's not uncommon either and it's likely that Larson or those around him have heard from potential recruiters who wouldn't mind "poaching'' a signed player from a school going through a coaching transition. That's the business, as recruiters will tell you. It can be a little cut throat especially when a highly-rated player such as Larson commits early and then signs early with a school that suddenly finds itself going through a transition. It's also reality and as much as fans would have liked McCaffery's arrival to eliminate the problems of the past, don't be surprised if the rough waters surrounding the Hawkeye program continue for a bit. You see, that is also part of the business in 2010.
Siena's hiring of Fran McCaffery assistant Mitch Buonaguro today as its new basketball should help the new Iowa coach forge ahead as he works to fill his staff vacancies in Iowa City. Buonaguro, who had spent the last seven seasons with McCaffery at North Carolina-Greensboro and Siena, was expected to join McCaffery at Iowa if he was not selected as Siena's new coach. The hiring of the veteran coach who topped 1,000 career games on the bench during the recently-completed season will now leave McCaffery with an additional spot to fill. That could create an opportunity for Chad Walthall, a Todd Lickliter assistant who has remained on the job keeping things together in the weeks since Lickliter's firing. As expected, Andrew Francis was named today to fill one of the spots on the Hawkeye staff. A Brooklyn, N.Y., native who had spent three years working on the Siena staff under McCaffery also spent time as an administrative assistant and video coordinator at Villanova on a staff headed by Jay Wright. A number of names have surfaced as potential hires for the other spots. Among the most intriguing is that of former Iowa State coach Wayne Morgan. The 59-year old developed the reputation for being a top recruiter during his tenure as an assistant at Xavier and Syracuse, two places where he worked from 1979-96. He helped the Cyclones land a top-20 recruiting class in 2003 while working for Larry Eustachy. Morgan spent three seasons at ISU as the head coach before being dismissed. He brings the same type of experience that Iowa native and former Hawkeye Kirk Speraw could bring to the job. The former Central Florida coach and one-time Florida assistant under Lon Kruger is one of several former Hawkeyes receiving mention as possible candidates. Former Hawkeye Rodell Davis, a Chicago native and now an assistant to Keno Davis at Providence, and former Hawkeye Greg Stokes, currently an assistant at Kirkwood CC in Cedar Rapids, are considered potential candidates as well. A more recent Iowa player, Jeff Horner, is also among those who have applied for a spot on the staff, and could be in line for a position as a graduate assistant. Horner spent the past season as an assistant at Grand View College in Des Moines.