CORALVILLE, Iowa – Connor and Patrick McCaffery could benefit from playing one on one in their backyard. Two future Division I basketball players living under the same roof gives them an advantage many others don’t enjoy.
While a nice idea in theory and practicality, it doesn’t work in reality. A sibling rivalry intervenes.
The McCaffery boys last tested each other in March when they were in Seattle watching their father, Fran McCaffery, coach Iowa in the NCAA Tournament.
"I did win a couple of games. I won’t say the score. And then the last time we played, it didn’t turn out so well, so we haven’t played again since then," said Connor, a junior at Iowa City West High School.
So, the competition got the best of them?
"No comment," ninth-grade Patrick said while fighting back laughter.
It says something about the brothers that they respect their boundaries. And in their very close relationship, avoiding one-on-one basketball battles appears to be a rare stumbling block.
"We grew up together. We sit and talk all the time. I take him to school now. We just spend a lot of time together. It’s always been like that. It’s kind of weird not being around each other we’re so used to it," Connor said.
The brothers have played together throughout their lives from pick-up ball to AAU. With Patrick starting at West High this week, they’ve moved closer to teaming up in high school for the first time.
"It means a lot," Patrick said of following in his older brother’s footsteps. "He’s already told me the ropes and how to handle this and how to handle that. It’s amazing having him help me figure it out."
This year’s prep season likely will tip off a playing relationship extending until Connor finishes his career at Iowa following the 2020-21campaign. He’s been verbally committed to the Hawkeyes since the summer before his freshman year.
Patrick holds an Iowa scholarship offer. He is not formally pledged to his father but all signs are pointing to that happening in the future.
"When everybody saw where (Connor) was going, they assumed that’s where I was going to go, too, and they’re right," Patrick said.
The 6-foot-6, 150-pound Patrick said he’s not concerning himself with college at this point when he’s just starting high school.
"It will probably kick in more maybe this fall when I go on an unofficial here or maybe next AAU season," he said.
Connor is hanging back from his brother’s process.
"We’ve honestly never really talked about it. He can handle it on his own. I don’t think I really have to recruit him. I think he’ll end up committing at the end of it all," Connor said.
Connor approaches other Iowa targets differently than he does his younger sibling.
"When I went to the Nike Top 100 Camp (this summer), I had a couple of friends there that were on my team and I talked with some of them (about coming to Iowa). And then just people that I see on the AAU circuit that my dad has offered, I’ll talk with them," he said.
Connor said he got close with Class of 2018 Hawkeye pledge Joe Wieskamp from Muscatine. They, along with Patrick, ran with the Iowa Barnstormers AAU program this spring and summer.
"I basically tell them, ‘I’m going to get you the ball when you come because I’m going to play point guard.’ I’m going to throw them the ball and let them do what they can do," he said.
The 6-foot-5, Connor paced 25-1 West in scoring (13.0 PPG), rebounding (4.7 RPG) and assists (4.2 APG) as a sophomore. The Trojans lost just one starter from a year ago and added Patrick.
"He’s good at things that I need to get better at and I’m good at things that he needs to get better at. That really helps us," Connor said.
"When we’re playing together, I can find him in places, shooting or if he’s cutting to the basket. I’m a good passer so I can find him. He’s athletic so he can help me bring it down (the court) or shoot it and get me an assist or two."
During the winter of 2014, Connor and Patrick’s future of playing together was thrown into jeopardy. Doctors found a cancerous tumor on Patrick’s thyroid.
Patrick’s cancer became a national story as the Hawkeyes prepared for their first NCAA Tournament in eight years. Fran revealed the illness in a weekly press conference with local media and outlets like ESPN picked it up.
The tumor was removed. Patrick was deemed to be cancer free in June of 2014. He said he’s back to feeling 100 percent, though he’s struggled adding weight.
"It was humbling knowing how many people care about you than you would think," Patrick said of the support shown him during his tough time.
For Connor, his younger sibling’s sickness was surreal.
"It was kind of weird your brother on TV, on the news or whatever. I turned on Sportscenter one more and, sure enough, one one of the headlines was that," he said.
Patrick and Connor agreed that the support the family received from friends and strangers alike helped make a difficult time more bearable. Growing up in the public eye as sons of a known college basketball coach aided them in getting through a very personal time in front of others.
The McCaffery brothers welcome being under the microscope as Fran McCaffery’s son. When they walk into an opposing gym, they’re easy targets for enemy student sections.
"Most of the stuff, I find it funny, to be honest. I laugh at what they can come up with. I got the craziest things chanted at me this year," Connor said.
The Cedar Rapids Kennedy students hit Connor with a "Franwich" serenade every time he touched the ball this past season, he said. It referenced an item on a local restaurant’s menu named after his father.
"I thought that was funny just because it was so random," Connor said.
Patrick can look forward to the same treatment as he begins his high school career. He feels prepared already.
"You come in everywhere with a target on your back. I kind of embrace that. It gives me a little extra go. I’ve got to prove myself," he said.
Despite not being able to face each other in a one-on-one match-up, the McCaffery brothers have continued to help improve each other. On this night here in their backyard, they rebound for each other during shooting drills.
And they can’t completely avoid competing with each other. Be it video games or something else, winning is important. Trash talking is common place.
"I’m usually the instigator of pretty much everything," Patrick admits. "I pretty much try to push him to his limit. But I’m not going to push him past that limit. He’s got a couple of pounds on me."