Iowa City, Ia. — Fran McCaffery was introduced as Iowa’s men’s basketball coach three years ago Friday.
“I can promise you this,” McCaffery said at his introductory news conference at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “We’re going to play the game the right way. I’m going to coach with passion, but our players are going to have fun. They’re going to enjoy what they do on the floor. And this place is going to be rocking again.”
Average attendance has increased from an all-time low of 9,550 the year before McCaffery arrived to 13,625 this season, the best since 2001-02. And with a home-court advantage back in place, Iowa has started to win again.
The Hawkeyes were 18-2 at home, and take a 24-12 record into Tuesday’s game with Maryland in the semifinals of the NIT at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Iowa won 11 games in McCaffery’s first season and 18 last season.
“We expected to build something special, and I felt like with the history and tradition we had, the fan base that we had, the facilities that were in place and on the way, as long as we put together a staff that is necessary at this level, that we would be able to recruit and attract quality student-athletes and compete in the Big Ten successfully and then continue to get better,” McCaffery said Friday.
The steady climb north in the win column, from 11 to 18 to 24, doesn’t follow a specific blueprint McCaffery had in mind when he arrived.
“I don’t think I ever looked at, okay, I expect to go from this to this,” McCaffery said.
But it’s the kind of progress sophomore forward Aaron White expected when he accepted McCaffery’s scholarship offer.
“We keep getting better as a team, and Coach McCaffery is getting all the pieces he wants here,” White said. “The sky’s the limit for what coach McCaffery can do here. We keep getting better as a program, we keep getting better every day in practice. That’s what I came here to do. That’s what I’ve been trying to do every day since I’ve been here.”
McCaffery’s history – he’s now taken four straight programs from a losing season to at least 20 victories in just three years – is one reason he signed with the Hawkeyes.
“I’m looking forward to not only finishing this season but playing for him in my junior and senior season as well,” White said.
Eric May has been a valuable piece of Iowa’s resurgence this season, but he is the only scholarship senior on the roster. Iowa will carry NCAA Tournament expectations into 2013-14.
“Now I’m not going to shortchange what we’ve done in this period of time, but I think a lot of people would argue that to get from here to where we want to be is going to be that much harder, just being respectful of the fact that the teams that are below us are doing everything they can to do exactly what we’re doing,” McCaffery said. “And the teams that are above us have no intention of going anywhere, nor have some of those teams gone anywhere for quite some time.”
Iowa’s future success, McCaffery said, rests in the improvement of the current players and the ability to recruit the right players.
“We’re deeper, we’re more athletic, and I think we’ve addressed our shooting situation,” McCaffery said. “Certainly we’re shooting the ball now like we thought we would all year. We’ve also got two shooters coming in (Jarrod Uthoff and Peter Jok). That’s the kind of team we’re going to be.”
NIT FINAL FOUR — Madison Square Garden, New York
6:00 — BYU (24-11) vs. Baylor (21-14
8:30 — Maryland (25-12) vs. Iowa (24-12)
8:00 — Semifinal winners
PHOTO GALLERY: THE NIT'S OTHER 3 FINAL FOUR TEAMS
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball