By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – It’s easy to overlook Payton Sandfort.
He didn’t come to Iowa via the NCAA transfer portal, but rather the old-fashioned way as a high school recruit.
He wasn’t a top-100 recruit nationally.
And he didn’t have scholarship offers from the traditional power houses.
But if the 6-foot-7 Sandfort can make perimeter shots with any consistency, he could be a factor as a freshman next season because Iowa needs shooters with Luka Garza, Jack Nunge and C.J. Fredrick all having moved on, and with Joe Wieskamp also expected to be gone.
Other than sixth-year senior guard Jordan Bohannon, Iowa doesn’t have an established 3-point shooter on the current roster.
Graduate transfer Filip Rebraca combined to make 26 3-point shots over three seasons at North Dakota, including 15 this past season.
So it’s hard to know where he stands as a 3-point shooter at the Big Ten level, and that is also the case with 6-8 freshman Kris Murray, who only played briefly in 13 games this past season.
Kris Murray is the twin brother of Iowa teammate Keegan Murray, and while Keegan made the Big Ten All-Freshmen team this past season, Kris Murray, despite being a talented shooter, played sparingly because Iowa had enough perimeter shooters to fill that need with Fredrick, Wieskamp and Garza on the roster.
That isn’t the case now, however, so there should be an opportunity for playing time for anyone who shows Iowa coach Fran McCaffery they can make perimeter shots.
Sandfort held a zoom conference with the media on Tuesday and was asked what part of his game does he feel is ready for the Big Ten level.
“I would say right now it’s maybe my play making and my quick ability to get shots off,” said Sandfort, who helped lead Waukee to the Class 4A state title as a senior this past season. “And then I like to think that my basketball IQ can help out a lot guys.”
Sandfort shot nearly 46 percent from 3-point range as a high school senior, making 38-of-83 attempts during the regular season. He also made 44-of-46 free throw attempts as a senior.
So Sandfort, obviously, has a shooter’s touch.
But will it transfer right away to the college level?
If it does, he could play a key role as a freshman.
Assuming Wieskamp doesn’t return for his senior season, there will be a huge void to fill on both ends of the floor, but especially on offense where Wieskamp was Iowa’s second leading scorer behind Garza.
Wieskamp’s presence, along with Garza and Fredrick, made it easier for Iowa to space the floor on offense because opponents had to respect their shooting ability.
Iowa, when healthy last season, had four established perimeter shooters on the floor in Bohannon, but unless some players emerge as solid perimeter shooters, it won’t be as easy to space the floor next season.
That’s why Sandfort could see some playing time if he can make shots.
He seems best suited at 6-7 and 210 pounds to play the small forward position that Wieskamp has occupied for the past three seasons.
Wieskamp is currently exploring the NBA draft process and isn’t working out with the Iowa players right now, but he has given advice to Sandfort about playing small forward in the Big Ten.
“He’s not currently on campus, so I haven’t talked to him a whole lot,” Sandfort said. “But during the past year, I talked to him a little bit over texts and he just stressed the importance of kind of being able to use your own pace and play at your own pace to keep the Big Ten defenders off balance.”
One of the best ways to keep a defender off balance is to make shots.
Basketball isn’t rocket science.
The object of the game is to make shots, and those who excel in that area usually get playing time, even if they struggle with other parts of their game.
So don’t forget about Payton Sandfort because he might help to fill a void next season.