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Fran McCaffery has Hawkeye fans believing in basketball again

[ 8 ] May 10, 2012 |

Newton, Ia. – Two springs ago, newly minted Iowa men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery was scheduled to make his first career I-Club appearance at an event in Jasper County.

“I thought I’d scored a real coup,” longtime Jasper County I-Club president Dan Ellis said.

Iowa Head Coach Fran McCaffery talks to coaching staff during Iowa's first National Invitational Tournament game against Dayton at Carver Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday, March 13, 2012. (Press-Citizen photo)

And then Melsahn Basabe happened. Basabe, who had committed to McCaffery at Siena, had decided to make an official visit to Iowa after McCaffery changed jobs. That visit conflicted with the Jasper County I-Club date. McCaffery was a late scratch. Ellis wasn’t a happy Hawkeye.

“But he took the time to call me,” Ellis said of McCaffery. “He told me they really needed the kid.”

Wednesday night, Ellis finally welcomed McCaffery to Iowa Speedway for the annual Jasper County I-Club outing.

“I think he’s doing a great job,” Ellis said. “I like his intensity.”

After an 18-17 record in his second season at Iowa, four victories over Top 25 teams and the first postseason bid since 2006, McCaffery has Hawkeye fans believing in basketball again.

“I think there’s a future now, and there hasn’t been for quite a few years,” Iowa fan L.D. Palmer said. “He’s doing the right things, saying the right things, and he’s working his rear end off recruiting. I feel really good about the program, I really do.”

Gary Barta, Iowa’s director of athletics, said it’s an interesting dynamic to see people talking about basketball again, even at the statewide I-Club outings where football coach Kirk Ferentz is the main draw.

“People still want to talk football, but I’ve had as many people say it’s fun to talk about Hawkeye basketball again,” Barta said.

Barta said Iowa’s home NIT game with Dayton, where more than 13,000 tickets were sold in less than two days, “sort of blew the lid off the enthusiasm.”

McCaffery said he’s been received warmly at every I-Club he’s attended.

“They’re more excited now, clearly,” McCaffery said. “But they were very positive with me last year. The first year they’re excited because you’re new. The second year, they watched what we did. They were pretty much locked into style of play. That’s the style of play Hawk fans want to see. That’s what they were used to with the great teams and the great players (at Iowa).”

McCaffery, who apologized to the crowd for missing the event two years ago, didn’t try to temper enthusiasm.

“I’m proud to be your coach,” McCaffery told the crowd. “As excited as everyone is, I’m even more excited.”

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Rick Brown: Rick Brown covers men's basketball for The Des Moines Register and Hawk Central. He's married and the father of two. He also covers golf for the Register. View author profile.

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