Harty: McCaffery in Hunt for Talented Players
MAPLE GROVE, Minn. – Except for being asked how long Kirk Ferentz will remain as the Iowa football coach, the job-related question I hear most is, what’s up with recruiting?
Ferentz’s situation is more of a timing thing, whereas the questions about recruiting are ongoing. Hawkeye fans are passionate about football and men’s basketball recruiting. That’s why Rob Howe and I spent much of this weekend attending session four of the prestigious 17-under Elite Youth Basketball League, or EYBL for short.
The event was held at Maple Grove Community Gyms in suburban Minneapolis and featured many of the top high school seniors, juniors, and in a few cases, sophomores-to-be in the country.
I kept having to remind myself that these were all kids still in high school. It’s easy to forget that when you watch them perform above the rim and treat the basketball like a Yo-yo.
Rob and I were there mostly to watch and interview players who have expressed an interest in Iowa and vice versa. We conducted in-depth interviews with seven players, all of whom have Iowa offers.
We started with Chicago point guard Charlie Moore and ended with Philadelphia point guard Tony Carr. We also interviewed forward Nick Rakocevic, forward Tyler Cook, point guard Xavier Simpson, forward Willie Jackson and yet another forward Lamar Stevens.
Needless to say that all seven are talented in their own way or they wouldn’t have been at the three-day event, which matches all-star teams from all over the United States.
Equally impressive, though, was how each of the seven recruits handled themselves on and off the court. They were all polite, well-spoken and gave answers that seemed sincere. None are ready to make a decision about college, but Iowa is certainly an option that each one is seriously considering.
Rakocevic is the tallest of the seven at 6-foot-11, while Moore is the shortest, listed from 5-9 to 5-11. Cook and Stevens are both listed at 6-7, while Jackson is listed at 6-6; Carr at 6-5 and Simpson at 6-1.
Don’t be misled by Rakocevic’s height because he seems more comfortable playing and shooting on the perimeter. Also don’t be misled by Moore’s lack of height because he’s quicker than a hiccup.
Rakocevic, who is from suburban Chicago, plays on the same EYBL team that Moore does. Jackson and Simpson play for the same team from Ohio, while Carr and Stevens are teammates from Philadelphia.
Cook, who recently trimmed his list of schools to six, plays for a team from St. Louis.
I wouldn’t begin to guess which, if any of the seven, ultimately would pick Iowa. But there is mutual interest and that’s progress for an Iowa program that four or five years ago probably wouldn’t have drawn a sniff from any of the seven.
Iowa has won enough games under head coach Fran McCaffery, including finishing 12-6 in the Big Ten this past season and winning an NCAA Tournament game, to be relevant again. The Hawkeyes are by no means an elite program, but they are gaining momentum.
It won’t be easy landing any of the seven recruits because each one has some attractive offers.
Rakocevic has at least 10 offers from schools that include Illinois, Indiana, Purdue, Virginia, Wisconsin and Xavier. He said Saturday that distance won’t be a major factor in his decision about college. He more than anything is looking for the best fit, where he can play immediately and be comfortable doing it.
Moore has at least three offers at this stage from Iowa, Georgia Tech and St. John’s.
Carr has at least 10 offers, which in addition to Iowa, includes Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Temple and Southern Methodist University.
Stevens is being recruited by many of the same schools that Carr is considering, including Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Penn State, Temple and Villanova.
Jackson, who grabbed 20 rebounds during a game on Sunday, is interested in Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota, along with several other schools.
Simpson denied a report that he had committed to Xavier this past week. His list of scholarship offers includes Iowa, Illinois, Iowa State, Northwestern and Purdue among others.
Cook had scholarship offers from at least 20 schools before narrowing his list to Iowa, Iowa State, Missouri, Arkansas, Florida and Virginia.
One thing that stands out to me about the seven aforementioned players is that two of them come from the Philadelphia area. I’ve been waiting for McCaffery to take advantage of his Philadelphia roots, so maybe this is the start of that.
McCaffery was a celebrated high school point guard in Philadelphia, earning the nickname, White Magic. His playing career ended more than three decades ago, but time doesn’t erase success.
When asked about McCaffery on Sunday, Carr immediately smiled and said, White Magic. McCaffery apparently has made an impression.
BEST PLAYER: Harry Giles, a 6-10 power forward from Winston-Salem, N.C., was in my opinion the best all-around player at the event. That’s hardly a surprise, though, because Giles is a 5-star prospect with his pick of schools. Reports have the senior-to-be favoring Duke over North Carolina and Wake Forest.
STAR ON THE RISE: Remember the name Michael Porter Jr., because he is a special talent. Porter is a 6-9 junior-to-be from Columbia. Mo. You name the basketball skill and he has it. He shoots well from 3-point range. He rebounds in traffic. He runs the floor like a guard. And he’s unselfish.
Porter also has a connection to the University of Iowa. His mother is former Iowa women’s basketball player Lisa Becker, who graduated from Cedar Rapids Jefferson High School.
It never hurts to have a connection, but landing Porter will be a daunting task for McCaffery because the competition likely will include all of the elite programs in the country. Porter’s father is also an assistant women’s basketball coach at the University of Missouri.