By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Just two games into his college basketball career and Iowa freshman point guard Joe Toussaint already has made quite an impression.
His speed, quickness, moxie and energy are things that Iowa needs on both ends of the court.
The 6-foot Toussaint is averaging 11.0 points per game and has nine rebounds, four steals and three assists while playing a total of 27.57 minutes in the first two games.
Toussaint is expected to be Connor McCaffery’s backup at point guard for a third consecutive game when 1-1 Iowa faces Oral Roberts on Friday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
But Toussaint is also making a serious bid for more playing time, and the challenge facing Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, who is Connor McCaffery’s father, is figuring a way to get Toussaint more involved in a crowded backcourt.
It’ll become even more challenging if senior point guard Jordan Bohannon decides to play for the entire season rather than take a redshirt. Bohannon had hip surgery in late May and still is deciding whether to play or take a redshirt.
Bohannon can appear in what is believed to be 10 games during the first semester without exhausting his eligibility.
Redshirt freshman C.J. Fredrick and graduate transfer Bakari Evelyn also are competing for playing time in the backcourt. Fredrick started the first two games, alongside Connor McCaffery in the backcourt.
“It’s always interesting to try to figure out how we get enough guys enough minutes to where they develop confidence,” Fran McCaffery said. “That's the hardest thing.”
Toussaint is without question the quickest player on the Iowa team, and a lack of quickness is perhaps what plagued Iowa more than anything during this past Monday’s 93-78 loss to DePaul at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Toussaint is the one player for Iowa who seemed capable of matching DePaul's guards in terms of speed and quickness.
Toussaint is also almost exclusively a point guard, while the 6-5, 205-pound Connor McCaffery is big enough to play shooting guard, and maybe even small forward.
“We played Connor at the four spot the other night, and we can do that against certain teams,” Fran McCaffery said. “Certain teams you can't. So we will definitely look at that.”
Connor McCaffery is a gifted passer who always tries to get his teammates involved in the offense. He played the same way in high school, and his father was also a pass-first point guard during his playing days in high school and in college.
Connor McCaffery leads Iowa with six assists and has made all eight of his free throw attempts this young season.
But Connor McCaffery also has to be a scoring threat from the perimeter. and that’s where he struggled at times last season, especially as a 3-point shooter.
If Connor could make threes with some consistency this season, – he is currently 2-for-4 on the season – that would make it easier for him to play alongside Toussaint in the backcourt.
Fran McCaffery could also use a three-guard lineup and not suffer much from a size standpoint due to Connor’s size and strength.
Because if Toussaint keeps performing like he did in the first two games, it’ll be hard to keep him off the floor. Two games is a small sample size, but Toussaint clearly has the physical skills that Iowa needs in the backcourt.
Toussaint grew up in the Bronx and his New York City roots are evident when he plays basketball.
“I think he plays with an edge,” Fran McCaffery said. “I don't know if he talks as much. He's from the Bronx. They probably do a little bit. But he's not a real big talker. He's funny. He's got a great sense of humor.
“But he's got a competitive edge. When you grow up where he did and play at Cardinal Hayes, and for the AAU team that he played for, there is only one way to go.”
The fact that Connor McCaffery is Fran McCaffery’s son could make it a delicate situation in the backcourt.
But Fran McCaffery is paid to win basketball games, and that requires putting the best players on the floor. It is silly to think that he would play favorites, even if it involves his son.
Connor McCaffery and Toussaint might play the same position, but they play it differently, and Iowa will need both of them to contributre on a regular basis, especially if Bohannon decides to redshirt.
Connor McCaffery has an edge in experience over Toussaint, so it makes sense why he would be the starter right now.
Fran McCaffery also has a second son on the Iowa team in 6-8 freshman forward Patrick McCaffery, who played a total of 26.44 minutes in the first two games.
“You know, you go back to the numbers, for five, six weeks, Patrick's numbers were probably better than anybody else's and he's not playing much, either, because he's got to get work done at the other end,” Fran McCaffery said. “Those guys are ahead of him defensively. That's not uncommon for a freshman.”
Patrick McCaffery and Toussaint are roommates and have become close friends since entering college.
They’re both also dedicated to getting better as evidenced by Fran McCaffery having to turn the lights out in Iowa’s practice facility at approximately 11:30 p.m. this past Friday so his two true freshmen roommates would stop shooting baskets and go home.
“It’s the law of diminishing returns,” Fran McCaffery said. “You got you shots up, got comfortable. You felt like you needed to do that.
“Now it’s time to go eat and go to sleep.”