By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery now has some room to maneuver when it comes to his roster.
Nothing against shooting guard Brady Ellingson or forward Ahmad Wagner, but their decision to leave the team could be good news if McCaffery handles it the right way by adding an athletic guard to the roster.
Two scholarships will be available after the spring semester with Ellingson and Wagner both announcing on Tuesday that they plan to leave the program, but for different reasons.
The 6-foot-4 Ellingson will earn his degree in enterprise leadership in May and transfer from the Hawkeye basketball program. Ellingson, who has been with the Iowa basketball program the past four years, will be eligible to play next season as a graduate transfer.
“I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of the Iowa basketball program the past four seasons,” Ellingson said. “I look forward to pursuing an expanded role at another institution where I can achieve the goals I have as both a basketball player and student. I will take with me the memories and friendships created with my teammates. I also want to thank the Hawkeye fans for their support the last four years.”
The 6-7 Wagner has decided to depart the Hawkeye basketball program and explore college football opportunities as a receiver. Wagner will finish out this semester academically at Iowa before deciding on an institution to complete his college eligibility playing football.
“I have had recent discussions with my family and the coaching staff, and ultimately decided to leave the Hawkeye basketball program and end my college basketball career so I can finish my collegiate eligibility playing football,” said Wagner. “A person of strong faith, I am following God’s plan and I am eager for this next chapter. I leave the Iowa men’s basketball team with new friendships and incredible memories that I will forever treasure. I want to thank coach McCaffery, staff, and teammates for helping me grow both as a basketball player and person.
“My plan now is to train and get my body into football shape so I can be ready for when I decide where I will finish my athletic and academic goals. Thank-you Hawkeye nation for your support and welcoming me when I first stepped onto campus.”
Wagner could choose to play football for Iowa, but there isn't a scholarship currently available, and it's uncertain at this stage if one would be offered to the Ohio native.
If Wagner stays at Iowa to play football or transfers to an FCS program, he would have two years of football eligibility. But if he transfers to another FBS program, he would have one year of eligibility and would have to sit out next season.
Wagner only played football as a high school senior, but he still made all-state and was offered a scholarship from Kentucky, while Ohio State reportedly showed interest.
It seems obvious that Wagner and Ellingson are both leaving the Iowa program due to a lack of playing time. They both had their moments as a Hawkeye, but neither made the rotation for any extended period.
Ellingson was a prolific 3-point shooter coming out of high school in Wisconsin, but he never played enough for Iowa to take advantage of that skill. His lack of quickness made him a liability on defense at times and kept him from being a legitimate option at point guard.
Wagner’s playing time fluctuated at Iowa, but his struggles on offense kept him from being a key contributor.
McCaffery could choose to reward his son, 6-5 freshman guard Connor McCaffery, with a scholarship, or he could use both scholarships on two new players and keep Connor as a walk-on. Or he could use one scholarship this spring and still keep Connor as a walk-on.
It was painfully obvious during this past season when Iowa struggled to a 14-19 record that the roster was heavy on frontline players and light on guards, especially quick guards who can penetrate on offense and stop penetration on defense.
Point guard Jordan Bohannon is a terrific player in many ways, but he struggles on defense and with getting to the basket on offense due to a lack of quickness.
Bohannon needs help on the perimeter and Fran McCaffery now has an opportunity to help him by adding another point guard or a combo guard to the roster.
Iowa desperately needs a player who would allow for the 6-0 Bohannon to play off the ball more than he did in his first two seasons as a Hawkeye in order to take advantage of his 3-point shooting prowess.
Iowa signed two high school seniors in November, including 6-6 Muscatine star Joe Wieskamp. Shooting guard C.J Fredrick, who is from Kentucky, also signed with Iowa in November.
Wieskamp is a special talent, but is more suited to play small forward in college, while the 6-4 Fredrick is more of a shooting guard than a point guard.
A third scholarship could become available if power forward Tyler Cook decides not to return for his junior season. The St Louis native has decided to test the NBA draft process to see where he stands as a prospect.
Cook doesn’t plan to sign with an agent, meaning he could return to Iowa for his junior season.
But if three scholarships were to become available, McCaffery should use at least one of them this spring and hold one for next season since forward Nicholas Baer could be the only senior on the team next season.
That could change if Fran McCaffery added a graduate transfer for next season. But for now, Baer is the only senior on the updated roster in the wake of Tuesday’s news.
And with Fran McCaffery’s other son, Patrick McCaffery, already committed to Iowa’s 2019 recruiting class, Fran might not have a scholarship available for 2019 Bettendorf point guard D.J. Carton if he were to use both scholarships on underclassmen this spring.
Patrick could follow in his brother’s footsteps and play for his father as a walk-on. But Patrick is also ranked among the top 50 players nationally in his class, so that would be asking a lot from him.
The situation is fluid to say the least.
Some more players could choose to transfer after next season, making more scholarships available.
The only certainty at this point is that Fran McCaffery now has two scholarships available. At the very least, he needs to add an athletic guard for next season, while also making sure that he has a scholarship available for Carton, or for another point guard, in the 2019 class.