Connor McCaffery Affected by Cancelation of Two Sports
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Connor McCaffery thrives on competition.
“Whether it’s basketball, baseball, playing a board game with my family, a card game, I just want to win,” McCaffery said. “I want to get the best grades. I turn everything into a competition. I feel like it’s a blessing, and a curse.”
These days, finding an outlet for his competitive zest is challenging. A two-sport athlete at Iowa, McCaffery had both his basketball and baseball seasons end in the blink of an eye last month.
So instead of mastering the art of time management, this finance major with a 3.5 grade-point average has time on his hands.
“I kind of sit around and I’m like, “Wow, I feel like I should be doing something,’ ” Connor said. “A lot of video games, Netflix, stuff like that. I actually look forward to doing some school work some days, and just working out when I can.”
The Hawkeye basketball team was to play Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament at 1:30 p.m. on March 12 in Indianapolis, Ind. The coronavirus was rapidly changing life as we know it. But that morning, the game was still on.
The team met for breakfast and a review of the scouting report.
“Even in our meeting everyone was like, “Hey, guys, this stuff is out of our control, so plan on playing, plan on going out and beating Minnesota,’ Connor said. “We usually go back to our rooms for a little bit between pregame meal and when we leave for the arena. I was actually asleep. And then we all got a text on our phone: “Team meeting now.’ ”
The text was sent by Kyle Denning, Iowa’s assistant director of basketball operations, who has the whole team connected via a group chat.
“Weezy (Joe Wieskamp) was my roommate, and I said, “Yea, we’re not playing.’ We kind of figured as soon as that happened, March Madness was to follow. Sure enough, it was.”
And when the Big Ten Conference followed suit and cancelled all spring sports seasons, McCaffery’s baseball season had also ended before it started.
“At first it didn’t really hit me,” McCaffery said. “I didn’t know what was going on. Then it was, “Wow, this is really happening.’ ”
Connor, an outfielder and left-handed hitter, was going to join Coach Rick Heller’s team as soon as the basketball season was finished.
“I was planning to jump right in,” McCaffery said. “I was looking forward to it. I was excited.”
McCaffery had an outstanding season for Coach Fran McCaffery’s basketball team in 2019-20. Connor started every game for a team that finished 20-11. He led the nation in assist to turnover ratio (4.59). He turned it over just 22 times in 934 minutes of playing time, and also dished out 124 assists. He was the only player in the country with at least 120 assists and less than 30 turnovers.
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McCaffery averaged 6.2 points and 4.0 rebounds as a redshirt sophomore, and saw his 3-point accuracy improve. After making just six of 29 3-pointers in 2018-19 (.207), but made 33 of 97 attempts in 2019-20 (.340).
“I felt like it was one of the best seasons I’ve been a part of in terms of the team side of things,” Connor said. “I felt like we all got along. We had really good chemistry. It was fun pretty much every day. It was never like, “Wow, we’ve got to practice.’ ”
On a personal level, McCaffery was pleased with the progress of his game.
“I feel like I definitely improved in places where I wanted to,” he said. “I can still get that (3-point percentage) number up even more. I look back and I could have gotten a couple of more rebounds, and I should have had a couple more assists in terms of my averages. But I was happy with myself, and I navigated the different positions I played. I can improve my body, and athleticism, quickness, speed, all aspects of that. That’s the next step.”
While McCaffery played a role in his team’s seven victories over Top 25 opponents this season, he watched his baseball teammates beat rated opponents Arizona, North Carolina and Duke in the early portion of the schedule.
“I was definitely looking forward to playing on that team,” Connor said. “I felt like it was the most put together team I would have been on since my time here. I felt like it was going to be a special team, a veteran team. We had a deep bullpen and really good starters. We had some good young hitters, and guys like Ben Norman, Zeb Adreon and Izaya Fullard, who had been around and could carry the lineup at times.”
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A season ago, McCaffery missed watching the NCAA Selection Show for basketball because he was playing in a baseball doubleheader at Banks Field against Cal-State Northridge. He ended up hitting .238 with 22 starts, 18 of them coming in right field. McCaffery was expected to play both left and right field this season. D1baseball.com rated him as the seventh-best draft prospect in the Big Ten and 231st nationally, which brings an interesting wrinkle to the months ahead.
The annual Major League Draft has been moved back to July, and there is a possibility that it could be shortened to five rounds. McCaffery is eligible to be drafted this season.
“I don’t know what will happen because I didn’t even get to play,” Connor said.
If he is drafted, would be keep playing basketball? Again, the great unknown.
“That would be up to the teams that are interested in me,” McCaffery said. “At this point I’m getting older (22 in July). That’s something I’d have to negotiate beforehand. I’d have to see what they’d be comfortable with, and would that change the money or the pick, whatever the case may be?”
Connor said his competitive DNA comes from his parents. He dad played basketball at Wake Forest and Pennsylvania, and has been a Division I head coach for 24 seasons. His mom, Margaret, was a standout at Notre Dame. She was a three-year starter and team captain who scored 1,312 career points.
“I think I was just born into it,” Connor said.
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Connor started watching tape with his dad when Fran coached at North Carolina-Greensboro.
“I had to have been 4 or 5, maybe even 3,” said Connor.
His love of baseball was a by-product of being raised in a sports-crazy family. The day’s biggest game was always on television. Connor said his uncle, Jack, a sportswriter in Philadelphia, Pa., and his grandfather, Dick Nowlin, also influenced him with their passion for sports.
“I fell in love with baseball at an early age and just ran with it,” McCaffery said.
Instead of spending his spring on the diamond, home has become Connor’s safe haven. He does running and lifting at home. He also gets shots up in the family’s half-court gym. Places like Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City West High School and North Liberty Recreation Center remain closed.
McCaffery also joins a few of his baseball teammates still in town at a hitting cage in North Liberty to get in a few swings.
Other than that it’s games with the family, and dreaming of bigger and better things in 2020-21.
Connor knows that if the roster remains intact, the upcoming basketball season will include Top 10 projections and Big Ten title expectations. He said this team is built to handle the hype.
“I don’t see it being an issue at all,” he said. “We’re not a complacent group. We have some dudes who are extremely competitive, just like me. Every night out, taking the court is going to be a challenge. But it’s also going to be fun. That’s why I feel with the team we have, as long as we stay the course nothing’s going to get in the way of the kind of season we can have.”
And he hungers to stand the batter’s box again and challenge the pitcher.
“What are these next coming years going to be like?” Connor wondered. “What’s to come? I look forward to it. But I want everyone to be safe. That’s where I’m at now.”