IOWA CITY, Iowa – Fran McCaffery stopped just short of predicting stardom for one of his players on Wednesday, but he wasn’t referring to either of his point guards.
While the hype for freshman forward Tyler Cook continues to soar to heights rarely seen for an Iowa basketball player, the situation at point guard is more tempered, but equally as important, if not more important to Iowa’s success.
For the first time in four years, McCaffery has to replace his starting point guard in the wake of Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons both having used up their eligibility last season.
Sophomore Christian Williams and freshman Jordan Bohannon are competing to replace Gesell, who started at point guard for most of the past four seasons.
“We’re still going to play the same way,” McCaffery said Wednesday at Iowa’s annual media day event at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “I think when we recruited Christian and Jordan, we felt like they were perfect fits for what we do.
“We’re going to have to be a little bit patient because they’re young. But they’re smart, tough, and versatile. They both can get to the rim. They both can make shots. They both battle defensively. They’re intelligent, so they’ll understand our offense thoroughly, and if we’re changing defenses, they’ll be fine there. They’ll communicate what’s necessary to the rest of the team. I’m excited about both of them.”
McCaffery has a tendency to lay the praise on thick when referring to his players. He held nothing back when talking about the 6-foot-9, 253-pound Cook, who is a four-star recruit from St. Louis.
“I think he’s capable of being a star,” McCaffery said of Cook. “I really do.”
That could happen, but Cook’s transition to college will be impacted by what happens at point guard. Iowa’s entire season will be impacted by what happens at point guard.
It is hard to picture the Hawkeyes being successful if point guard is a weakness.
“I don’t feel any pressure at all,’ said the 6-6 Williams, who played in 20 games last season. “Honestly, it’s just a lot of motivation because there are big shoes to fill.
“Mike did a great job all four years. I just have to fall behind that.”
Neither Williams nor Bohannon has to be a star at point guard this season, but they can’t be a weakness, either. They have to value the basketball, while getting their teammates involved in the offense.
Williams barely has any experience at the collegiate level, while the 6-0 Bohannon has none. Bohannon also has to learn to play the game differently after being mostly a prolific scorer in high school who had the freedom to shoot from anywhere.
“I was pretty much shoot first in high school,” Bohannon said. “I don’t think it will be too big of a change. I was thrown in as a freshman at the varsity level, so I was more of a pass-first guy then.”
Bohannon is confident that he can handle the ball-handling responsibilities associated with the point guard position.
“I’ve been handling the ball most of my life,” he said. “I know this is a new experience. But I just have to keep having that mindset that I put in the work and the time to be able to handle situations like this.”
Bohannon and Williams both have the luxury of playing for a head coach who used to be a star point guard in college.
Iowa also recently hired Courtney Eldridge as its new video coordinator. Eldridge was a star point guard for McCaffery at North Carolina-Greensboro.
“It’s nice having both of them in our ear just telling us what we need to work on day to day,” said Bohannon.
It won’t always be nice, though.
Every season is filled with peaks and valleys, especially for young players learning a new role. The challenge for Williams and Bohannon will be to limit the valleys.
They both will push each other on a daily basis to get better. But they also could play together because of their contrasting styles and different body types.
Williams has enough height and versatility to play both guard positions and maybe even small forward in McCaffery’s fast-paced offense.
McCaffery also could use a three-guard lineup with Williams, Bohannon and senior Peter Jok, who was Iowa’s second leading scorer last season with a 16.1 per-game average.
“I do (see them playing together), for a lot of reasons,” McCaffery said Williams and Bohannon. “Christian is a really good defensive player, so we might need him to go shut down a (shooting guard), especially if Pete is in foul trouble. I’d like to play him with Pete kind of like we did last year with three guards.
“Christian is a really good offensive rebounder, so we could turn him loose because you don’t send your point guard to the glass. You can, but that’s rare, and it’s difficult, and it takes a lot of adjustment. So I think Christian and Jordan together would be really good, especially with the way that Jordan shoots the three.”
Bohannon, who is the son of former Iowa quarterback Gordy Bohannon, was a force from 3-point range throughout high school. Jordan also has two older brothers who were prolific 3-point shooters in college. Jason Bohannon and Matt Bohannon were star shooting guards at Wisconsin and Northern Iowa, respectively.
So if Jordan Bohannon shows that he can make 3-pointers with consistency, he could find a spot in the rotation.
But will Iowa find stability at point guard?
We’ll soon start getting the answer to that question.