Fran McCaffery has an eye for talent. And it reaches beyond present accomplishment. The Iowa coach can project with the best of them.
Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White earned first-team all-Big Ten honors with the Hawkeyes after being lightly recruited high school prospects. Their exploits played an integral role in McCaffery rebuilding a downtrodden program.
McCaffery also has lost talented athletes to bigger name-schools after being among the first in line to offer a scholarship. Chicago Point Guard Tyler Ulis was set to be a Hawkeye before Kentucky swooped in.
The Iowa coach continues to plug away, trusting his instincts. It could pay off in a big way, literally and figuratively, with St. Louis Power Forward Tyler Cook, who officially visits Iowa City this weekend.
McCaffery was the first Power 5 Conference coach to offer Cook. It came in April of 2014.
Cook since has shot up the rankings to No. 82 nationally by Rivals and become a four-star recruit. Arkansas, Florida, Iowa State, Missouri, Virginia, Illinois, Kansas, Kansas State, Marquette, Memphis, Miami, Michigan, Pitt, Purdue, Tennessee and Wake Forest were among a large group of schools to reportedly offer scholarships to the 6-foot-8, 240-pounder from Chaminade High and the St. Louis Eagles.
While being first hasn’t worked for McCaffery in the past, his confidence in Cook’s ability early in the process has the Hawkeyes in the thick of the race for his services.
"He always saw the potential in Tyler and it was early," said Stephanie Cook, Tyler’s mother. "He encouraged Tyler to work on his game. He always said he didn’t see Tyler as just a post. He said he could see him handling the ball and encouraged him to do more.
"Tyler has done what (McCaffery) said he could do. He encouraged him. He saw something in Tyler and had the confidence in him to offer before anybody else. That says a lot."
Stephanie Cook said that her son has stopped answering his recruiting phone so he can focus on his school work, the recruiting process and improving his game. She was more than happy to speak on Tyler’s behalf as someone helping to support his decision.
Tyler Cook is down to three schools, Stephanie said. Iowa, Florida and Arkansas still are running the race. Missouri, once thought to be the favorite, is no longer in the picture, she said.
The Cooks visited Florida officially and have scheduled one to Arkansas for the end of this month. After that, they’ll sit down as a family and make a choice.
"We’ll compare notes and see where Tyler feels most comfortable and which program he fits in best," Stephanie Cook said.
The Hawkeye coaches have been working hard on making the Cooks feel wanted. They conducted an in-home visit with them last week and were back at an open gym to see Tyler on Monday, Stephanie Cook said.
"We really like Iowa," said Stephanie, who has accompanied her son on several unofficial visits to the Big Ten school. "I feel like we have a good relationship with the staff and really feel comfortable with them. Again, they started recruiting Tyler before he was a ranked player."
Stephanie Cook said her family feels informed about Iowa and what it has to offer. The official visit is about Tyler seeing how he fits in there.
"We’ve asked a lot of questions and had them answered," she said. "This is for Tyler to see how he feels around the other players. He’s also looking forward to sitting down and watching film with Fran to see how he fits in the system and how they can improve his body and his game and how the staff will work with Tyler the next four years."
The Cooks can compare what they see at Iowa with their experience in Gainesville.
"(Florida) went well. They have a really nice campus and a nice coaching staff," Stephanie Cook said.
AllHawkeyes.com will follow up with the Cooks after their visit to Iowa. They’re scheduled to be in town from Friday to Sunday and will be at the Hawkeye football game against Pitt on Saturday.
"We’ve never been to an Iowa football game. We’re looking forward to that," Stephanie said.