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Video & Transcript: Fran McCaffery Press Conference 1-16-20

January 16, 2020

Written by Rob Howe

Hawkeye Nation

Q. How did CJ’s foot react to the minutes the other night? Any setbacks at all?
FRAN McCAFFERY: Good. No. It was good.

Q. That’s pretty positive that he was in that long.
FRAN McCAFFERY: Yeah, you hope it remains that way moving forward. But so far, so good.

Q. When he’s on the floor, how does he help space the offense?
FRAN McCAFFERY: Well, you have to pay a lot of attention to him. He’s a shot maker, he’s a driver, he’s a post feeder. He moves the ball. He doesn’t turn it over. So he’s just an integral part of what we’re trying to accomplish, the way we play, our style. He’s a perfect fit. He’s a guy if he’s healthy, he’s going to play 30 plus minutes.

Q. Last time you played Michigan they probably doubled Luka less than anybody had all year. Do you expect that again?
FRAN McCAFFERY: Normally we go into a game expecting it. We’ve seen it pretty much every game, and they play it a little differently. They’ve not only done that to him but other people. We’ll just have to see when the game starts.

Q. How much of a chess match is it when you play a team a second time and you kind of are familiar with what they’re doing and they’re familiar with what you’re doing?
FRAN McCAFFERY: Yeah, there’s always that, but for this game, it was a little bit ago, and things just change. Wagner, it was like his second game back, and he’s been really good. Brandon Johns played really well against us, has played a lot when Livers was out, so I think Johns and Wagner have really stepped up their game, and then obviously they’re looking forward to getting Livers back, whenever that is. Might be tomorrow.

But for them, it sort of depends on Simpson. He’s the key to it all. It’s been that way for a while now. He’s really good with the ball. He’s as good as anybody I’ve scouted over the years at finding people, making plays, making plays for himself, and he’s got some weapons around him. Teske is playing really well. Eli Brooks has really blossomed this year with the opportunity to play more.

Yeah, we did play them a while ago, but things have changed for them and for us. Bakari is playing at another level, and so is Ryan Kriener, in a lot of ways.

Q. Do you feel like this home court thing in the Big Ten, can you point to the increased level of coaching, more balanced teams? What factors can go into that?
FRAN McCAFFERY: Yeah, I think it’s a little bit more than usual. The home team usually wins. I don’t care what league it is. This year it’s a little bit more dramatic in this league. There’s good players, good coaches, good home fans, the atmosphere. There’s a lot of factors there.

Q. We’ve heard a lot of people say they’re surprised how well this team has responded to adversity with the injuries. Are you surprised at all, or is this kind of what you expected?
FRAN McCAFFERY: I don’t know that you can look at a team and have an expectation as to, okay, how will we handle this, how will we handle that. You try to recruit players that you think are mentally tough and have a diverse skill set or a particular skill set that’s effective. And then you try to build confidence and strength and toughness, and then you give them a scouting report so that they have information that’s valuable on the floor. Somebody goes down, somebody steps in. You don’t make a big thing about it one way or the other.

I think everybody that competes is hoping for an opportunity, so they want it to come at the expense of someone else, and you support that person when they come back, and they support you when they’re out. And I think that’s just kind of how we do it. So I’m not surprised by it. It wasn’t like it was an expectation that it would be this way. But we just kind of just keep plugging away with what we try to instill on a daily basis.

But the one thing that I do think that my staff and I always try to do is build confidence with our guys so there’s a lot of understanding and mental toughness when the game starts.

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Q. There was about a four-game stretch last season for Luka when he was maybe on the floor for 18, 20 minutes a game, got in bad foul trouble. You said going through that stretch has really helped him mentally grow and stay even keel throughout his performance this season. From a coach’s perspective what have you seen out of him the last year?
FRAN McCAFFERY: I think in fairness to him; he starts the season last year with major surgery, is playing well, sprains his ankle, he’s out three and a half weeks. He wasn’t healthy. Big game for him last year was at Northwestern, you remember he didn’t start that game, Kriener did. We weren’t sure what we were going to get out of him, and he basically was a guy we went to down the stretch, not unlike the other night.

So I don’t put anything into that other than he was coming off an injury and wasn’t himself, because when he’s been himself, he’s been really consistent.

Q. Has he seen pretty much everything now?
FRAN McCAFFERY: Yeah, he has, and to be truthful I’m sure he did in high school, it’s just a little bit guys are bigger and guys are quicker, the double-team is getting there quicker, the rotations maybe are a little bit better, but there’s nothing he hasn’t seen.

Q. Has he gained the ability to kind of adjust on the fly to what he’s seeing?
FRAN McCAFFERY: Well, we work on it, but he’s really gotten better at it. He’s got a really good feel now of when and where the double-team is coming from and how quickly to get rid of it or shoot it. Sometimes you can shoot it before the double-team gets there, sometimes you can’t. But he’s not turning it over. He’s not spinning and charging and committing fouls. He’s moving the ball, and sometimes we move it, move it, move it, and then we throw it back into him, and I think that’s what you have to do. He’s got to know when he gives it up, he might get it back, and he knows that.

Q. How is there a concerted effort to limit 3-point attempts? How does that change what you do offensively or what you want to focus on?
FRAN McCAFFERY: It really won’t change what we do in terms of — we’re still going to run, we’re still going to run motion. We’ll still run some sets. It might require more ball movement, more screening, more cutting, maybe a longer possession. But, clearly that’s been their game plan is to try to limit the other team’s threes, not only in terms of attempts but obviously makes.

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Q. You know Connor better than most people; what did you know about him that made you sure that he would be a Big Ten basketball player?
FRAN McCAFFERY: I think it’s his mind. He really understands the game at a whole ‘nother level. Been that way for a long time. I think if you were to ask Bergy that question, he would say the same thing.

I think he started from day one at West High at a high when they were very, very good, had really good players, and he was able to run that team as a freshman all the way through, winning a state championship in his senior year, as he did when he was a freshman. But also just watching him on the AAU circuit, watching him — Nike Elite 100, NBA Top 100. Look who he’s playing against, playing against Tre Jones and Gary Trent, Jr., two first-round picks. Obviously Tre will be this year. And he goes for 29 up in Minnesota.

So I’ve seen him against really good players in very difficult situations, and he usually is pretty successful.

Q. When you say it’s hard, is it hard to have — you almost have to be a little better, I would guess, being your son or just a coach’s son in general. Is that a hard thing or does that make a kid better?
FRAN McCAFFERY: I definitely think it makes him tougher. He’s handled that perspective really well. I think it helps him — pretty much everybody in that locker room he knew, or knows really well. He grew up playing with Bohannon and Cordell and Kriener and went to these events with Luka. His brother is on the team. He’s played against Riley Till. You just go right on down the line, all the guys that we have. Same AAU program as Joe Wieskamp since they were kids. So there’s a kind of respect there, but I think it goes beyond that. I think there’s a legitimate friendship that makes it a little bit easier, I think, than him going into a locker room with 14 guys that he didn’t know before.

But you know, he’s very respectful of everybody else and what they’re going through, and I think he communicates well. He’s always had a maturity level about him that just manifests itself well in terms of how the locker room gets along with each other. It’s a long season. There’s a lot of ups and downs. But I think if you’re genuine in your approach, you can be effective in particular as a leader.

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It’s been a lot of fun for me to have him in the locker room the last couple years. Now Patrick is there, too. We’ll get him back on the floor at some point. But yeah, I was fairly certain that he would be a guy that could help us win games at this level.

Q. Did it help that he was 6’5″? Did that just make the decision that much easier?
FRAN McCAFFERY: Yeah, I figured he would probably end up somewhere around there. When he committed to us as a sophomore, he was probably 6’2″, 6’3″, so I had to feel like, okay, if he doesn’t grow anymore, will that be big enough to play the position, and can he be effective enough at more than one position. As you pointed out, going to 6’5″ clearly helped that because he can play — plus he’s 215, so that helps, his ability to be able to guard guys bigger than him and then also see the floor. You’ve got to move the ball up and down the floor against guys smaller than him.

Q. Given how smart a player he is, do you envision him ending up as a coach someday himself?
FRAN McCAFFERY: I think he might like to do that. To be truthful, I think his mother would prefer that he do something else (laughter), but he’s prepared himself well. He’s a 3.5 in finance, finance major. He’s on the Dean’s List. So he’s set himself up to do something else should he choose to do that.

I think it’s hard sometimes — I look at myself, I’m in the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, I really didn’t play on being a coach, but when you’ve been involved in the game since second or third grade and then all of a sudden, okay, well, I’m not playing in the NBA, it’s over, or you can stay involved in the game that you love and hopefully make a living, it’s not a bad way to go. It’s a great place to work, being involved with young people on a daily basis and being able to affect their lives in a positive way. It’s a very rewarding profession. It can be difficult at times. It’s very public, obviously.

But I feel pretty blessed to have been able to stay involved in the game, and I’ve been doing it for over 30 years. To come to work and get in the gym and getting to work with young people is pretty special.

Q. The way Connor is able to divide his time and do it in a disciplined fashion, schoolwork, Division I basketball player, Division I baseball player and still be able to put forth the effort that’s required to do it at a high level, has that discipline always been there for him? Did he have to learn it over the years?
FRAN McCAFFERY: For him, it’s always been there. It’s just the way he’s always been. He’s kind of wired that way. Just kind of always took care of his business. On time. Not late, I’ll do it next week, just something is due, he turns it in. He works on it, prepares. Gets ready for the next game, gets in the weight room, gets over and hits, gets in the gym and shoots, that kind of thing. Patrick is a lot different. He just rolls with it and is not quite as locked in and deals with things just a lot differently. There’s probably a lot of reasons for that, but you know, Connor, he’s never been a guy that you had to sit him down and say, you’ve got to do this, this, this and this, you’ve got to figure this out, you’ve got to get organized, because it’s already been done. I think we would all like to be that way, but I wasn’t. I mean, most people aren’t, especially at a young age. Well, he’s been like that as long as he’s been going to school.

Q. Does Connor do the same sort of film study with his baseball swing and everything else that he does with basketball?
FRAN McCAFFERY: I think so. I think those guys are required. They’re pretty analytical, and they have a lot of tools over there that are pretty amazing — they do stuff with vision therapy and all kinds of stuff with pitches coming this way. You’ve got to pick — you have to pick out is it a curve ball, is it a slider, is it a fast ball, is it a change-up. They’re pretty sophisticated over there. So I’m assuming yes, but I haven’t been over there to see it.

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