When junior college forward Willie Atwood announced last month that he’d be continuing his college basketball career at Arizona State and not Iowa, Hawkeye coach Fran McCaffery had already turned the page.
“I like going into this (2015) class with scholarships,” McCaffery said.
The class of 2015 is an important one for McCaffery, and the future of his program.
“I think that’s fair, when you look at the fact that we lose six really good players in two years,” McCaffery said Monday.
Devyn Marble, Melsahn Basabe and Zach McCabe were seniors last season. Aaron White, Josh Oglesby and Gabe Olaseni will be seniors this season.
With half those openings filled with three signees headed into next season — point guard Trey Dickerson, shooting guard Brady Ellingson and forward Dominique Uhl — Iowa’s coaching staff has zeroed in on the class of 2015.
And McCaffery got his second commitment from that 2015 class Monday. Andrew Fleming, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard and Tennesssee’s Division II-AA Mr. Basketball after averaging 18.9 points as a junior, gave his pledge to Iowa. Brandon Hutton, a 6-6 small forward from Chicago De La Salle, committed to Iowa in March.
Fleming, who will play his senior season at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, actually called McCaffery with his decision on Sunday.
“He thinks I can score in a variety of ways on offense, and he loves to recruit versatile guys,” Fleming said. “He knows I can put it on the floor and score at the rim. I can dish it, and I can find open guys. I can also spot up and knock down 3s.”
Fleming hopes to put his versatility to use on the AAU circuit this summer.
“I know so many kids around the country,” Fleming said. “Of the top 200 in the rankings, I probably know 150 of them. And I think it’s time for me to start recruiting. I’m going to start looking for some fours (power forwards) and fives (centers).”
McCaffery could add as many as three players to his class of 2015, though he is still looking at several transfers and hopes to get a visit or two this spring. According to Rivals.com, Iowa has 16 scholarship offers out to members of the class of 2015 after Fleming’s commitment. McCaffery said that number could actually be closer to 20.
“The bottom line is you recruit 150 guys and you end up with three,” McCaffery said. “Some of them, we’ll eliminate. Some will eliminate us. And some, we’ll go right down to the wire with and we’ll come in second.”
Finishing second has become a point of contention on some Hawkeye message boards this spring. Atwood and Cole Huff, a transfer from Nevada, had Iowa offers. Atwood, who was shopping for a starting position, likely would have come off the bench this season.
Huff, a 6-8 transfer forward from Nevada who selected Creighton, would have given the offense a boost with his shooting ability starting in 2015-16. He also would have needed to add weight and strength to his 205-pound frame to survive in the Big Ten Conference.
There was also some hand-wringing when Joseph Toye, a class of 2015 forward from LaPorte, Ind., with an Iowa offer, selected Vanderbilt last month. But Toye went off Iowa’s board when Hutton committed.
Those recruiting defeats didn’t come close to hurting like the loss of Tyler Ulis, a suburban Chicago point guard and McDonald’s all-American, stung. McCaffery was at the front of the line in the pursuit of Ulis, and was there swinging until the final out. But Kentucky swooped in late and got him.
“I recruited him as hard as I’ve recruited anybody,” McCaffery said.
Schools such as Kentucky and Duke selectively recruit, with prep all-Americans replacing prep all-Americans.
“Most schools aren’t in that mode, even at the BCS level,” McCaffery said. “So what you have to do is find a lot of good players. And that’s how we’ve done it. We’ve got 10 or 11 really good players, all of whom are sort of interchangeable parts.”
Sometimes, it takes finding an under-the-radar talent. An Aaron White, who was lightly recruited. A Devyn Marble. Maybe a Uhl. Iowa assistant Andrew Francis was at an AAU game last summer watching a game involving Goodluck Okonoboh, a top-50 recruit in the class of 2014. Uhl, who had not been on Iowa’s radar, went head-to-head with Okonoboh and played well. Francis called McCaffery and said, “I got one.”
Time will tell if Uhl can have the same impact on the program like Marble and White have. The importance of those undervalued gems is magnified at Iowa, where there’s not enough local talent to build the foundation of your team with homegrown players.
“The reality is you’ve got to keep bringing in good players and good people,” McCaffery said. “Do that and you’re going to have a shot.”
And the class of 2015, two deep with room to grow, provides that opportunity.