IOWA CITY — Connor McCaffery has waited since fourth grade to be coached by his dad.
Back then it was the Albany City Rocks AAU team, and Fran McCaffery was head coach at Siena. Connor was on a team with his brother Patrick then, like the last two years at Iowa City West, and Fran said then it was about “trying to just have a great experience.”
Connor now is officially part of the Iowa men’s basketball team, and for the first time in nearly a decade, he’s subject to the coaching he’s gotten to watch from the sidelines. He’ll redshirt this season while starting his Iowa baseball career under Coach Rick Heller, but he’ll very much be present with Hawkeyes hoops — starting with their European trip this week.
“It’s not any different than I thought it would be,” Connor said. “The teaching points he makes to the guys, I’m just a part of it now instead of watching it.
“I think he’ll be fun to work with because he wants what’s best for me. I want to be great in both sports. He wants that too. He’s going to be open to be going to baseball things and whatnot. I think it’ll be good.”
Almost nothing about Connor’s time at Iowa will be what one could call conventional.
At media availability ahead of the Hawkeyes’ trip to Europe, where they’ll play four games in three countries over just less than a week, Fran highlighted an example of how busy Connor has been juggling baseball and basketball this summer. It’ll calm down a bit, but Fran said there was a day where, “he got up and he lifted with us, and then he hit with Iowa baseball, then he went to West High practice, then he came to our practice and then he played a doubleheader. So that was probably a little too much that day.”
Connor laughed when acknowledging the story, and said this transition year while he redshirts will be good to find a routine with baseball, basketball and school. There has been and will be a lot to juggle. He had the option of going to Taiwan with the baseball team instead of basketball, but the timing of the end of his high school season and the start of everything at Iowa, in addition to his not being fully integrated into the baseball team, led to the basketball trip.
He’ll split his time and have to become an expert at managing it. As dual-sport college athletes go, the basketball/baseball combo isn’t common.
What will be common, according to both coach and player — and father and son — is how Connor fits on the team. Connor told a story about how he got benched back on that Albany City Rocks team, but a laughing about what happened as a kid was a way to illustrate how he envisions his college career.
Not that he’ll get benched, mind you, but that he doesn’t anticipate being treated differently than anyone else Fran coaches.
That may seem like a standard-issue response from a coach whose son is on the team, but everyone involved has already seen it in just a short time. Fran said he talked to Creighton head coach Greg McDermott, Michigan’s John Beilein and Georgia Tech’s Craig Neal about coaching their sons and said they all had different stories.
“If I need to say something to him, I say it,” Fran said. “There are things that he’ll do that are mistakes. There are times initially when he’ll sort of make — that was a high school play. He’ll figure that out soon enough.
“So little by little he’s figuring out the speed of the game, the size of the guys, and he’s adjusted well, and playing in more than one spot, he’s figured that out.”
Connor has to learn the functional aspects of both sports at this level, and that will take plenty of adjustment by itself. He also has to learn the dynamics of the two teams, how the culture is and where he fits in on an intangible level, not just a practical one.
Basketball shouldn’t be much of an issue, given his proximity for years. Baseball will be the more unknown, but his redshirt situation should help that as well, given more of his time will be devoted to baseball during his freshman year.
Still, basketball literally is family, and there was — even if it was laughed off — a tiny window opened up to burning his redshirt. A dynamic week in Europe could change some minds.
Jokes aside, Connor and Fran both were relaxed in discussing it all.
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“I think it’s a little easier for me in this case because I already know so much about the basketball team, I’ve been around, I’ve been a part of this; I just haven’t been on the team,” Connor said. “In terms of baseball, I think that’s what this year will help with, being with them most of the time.
“I’d have to talk to my dad (if I play really well in Europe), but I think we might be past that point. We’ve got lots of basketball practices left, so we’ll see.”
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