By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – If history is any indication, the odds of Bettendorf point guard D.J. Carton choosing to play basketball for the Iowa Hawkeyes are pretty good.
Because despite how it might seem, the Iowa men’s basketball team usually gets who it wants from in state.
And with the few who have gone elsewhere, in most cases there were extenuating circumstances.
One could argue that former MFL-Marmac star center Raef LaFrentz is the only recruit from in state in quite a while who turned down Iowa at a time when the Hawkeyes had nothing significant working against them.
LaFrentz chose Kansas in 1993 and would go on to achieve stardom at the traditional power before playing in the NBA.
Of course, the decision didn’t sit well with Iowa fans, or with Bob Bowlsby, who was the Iowa Athletic Director at the time.
Some believe that LaFrentz’s decision was the beginning of the end for Tom Davis as the Iowa head coach. That seems like a stretch, considering Davis coached for another five years at Iowa , and considering Davis almost always landed who he wanted from in state, a list that included Chris Street, Russ Millard, Jess Settles, Ryan Bowen, Ricky Davis and Dean Oliver.
But all it takes is one big fish who got away to overshadow all the other fish you landed.
Take away LaFrentz and it’s hard to think of any recruits from in state beside Jason Bohannon who turned down a scholarship from Iowa without extenuating circumstances.
The oldest of the four Bohannon brothers and the son of former Iowa quarterback Gordy Bohannon in 2005 chose the stability at Wisconsin under Bo Ryan over the instability at Iowa under Steve Alford.
Jason Bohannon grew up cheering for the Hawkeyes, and Iowa had momentum during his senior year at Linn-Mar High School from winning the 2006 Big Ten Conference Tournament and 25 games overall that season.
But Wisconsin was a rising power under Ryan and Bohannon felt comfortable in Ryan’s offense, and in Madison as a whole.
So he picked the Badgers and was booed every time he played in Iowa City. He still won a lot of games in college and scored over 1,000 points for the Badgers.
As for Alford, he resigned as the Iowa head coach shortly after the 2006-07 season to accept the same position with the University of New Mexico. Some will say that Alford fled to New Mexico to stay one step ahead of the firing posse that was being formed in Iowa City.
Whatever the case, Jason Bohannon’s concern about the instability under Alford was justified.
Jason has since reconnected with his Hawkeye roots thanks to his younger brother Jordan Bohannon, who now starts at point guard for Iowa.
But who besides Jason Bohannon and Raef LaFrentz turned down Iowa for reasons that weren’t obvious?
A case could be made for former Linn-Mar point guard Marcus Paige, but there were extenuating circumstances in his recruitment.
Paige’s senior year at Linn-Mar coincided with Fran McCaffery’s second year as the Iowa head coach. From the moment McCaffery was hired at Iowa in March 2010, he was playing catch-up with Paige on the recruiting trail and there was just too much ground to make up.
It also didn’t help that Iowa finished 11-20 in McCaffery’s first season as head coach in 2010-11, although, by then, Paige's mind was all but made up as he committed to North Carolina on Jan 8, 2011, midway through his junior year of high school and less than a year after McCaffery has been hired at Iowa.
It would’ve been hard for McCaffery to land Paige under any circumstance because McCaffery was up against one of college basketball’s true blue blood programs, and because Paige grew up admiring the Tar Heels from a distance.
But McCaffery barely even had a chance to recruit Paige after replacing Todd Lickliter as the Iowa head coach in 2010. McCaffery also had little to offer Paige besides playing time and a short drive home in the wake of the Lickliter disaster.
McCaffery faced the same situation with former Cedar Rapids Jefferson star forward Jarrod Uthoff, who committed to Wisconsin in April 2011, and barely one year after McCaffery had been hired at Iowa.
Uthoff eventually had a change of heart and transferred from Wisconsin to Iowa where he became a star under McCaffery.
So it’s not really fair to say Uthoff is one who got away.
It’s also not fair to say Harrison Barnes is one who got away because he grew up in Ames and is the son of a former Iowa State basketball player.
The Cyclones couldn’t convince Barnes to stay home rather than attend North Carolina. So what was Iowa supposed to do? Especially with Lickliter coaching at the time.
There also were extenuating circumstances surrounding Nick Collison’s decision to play for Kansas, most notably the fact that his senior year at Iowa Falls High School in 1998-99 coincided with Tom Davis’ lame-duck season at Iowa.
I have it on good authority that Collison would’ve given Iowa very serious consideration if Davis’ contract had been extended.
But instead he went to Kansas and became a star under head coach Roy Williams, along with fellow Iowa native Kirk Hinrich, who previously was committed to Iowa State as a high school junior and late in the Tim Floyd coaching era in Ames. Hinrich changed his mind about attending Iowa State after Floyd resigned to become the head coach for the Chicago Bulls in 1998.
Iowa never gained any traction with Hinrich, who is from Sioux City. Floyd obviously made a strong impression, but Tom Davis was limited in what he could do as a lame-duck coach.
Turn the calendar back to today and the focus is on the aforementioned D.J. Carton, who recently trimmed his list to six schools, including Iowa. Carton’s other finalists are Ohio State, Michigan, Indiana, Xavier and Marquette.
Speculation has Ohio State and Michigan as the leaders with Iowa and Indiana close behind.
The timing of Carton’s recruitment isn’t working to Iowa’s advantage with the Hawkeyes coming off a disappointing 14-19 season.
But to call that an extenuating circumstance would be an excuse.
Iowa only has itself to blame for last season’s struggles. It was McCaffery’s eighth season as head coach and four starters returned from the previous season when Iowa won 19 games.
McCaffery has had plenty of time to recruit the 6-foot-2 Carton, and so far, it’s paying dividends with Iowa still in the hunt for the four-star recruit in the 2019 class.
Iowa also has location on its side with Carton living only about an hour from the UI campus.
Carton would face a unique and potentially awkward situation at Iowa where Fran McCaffery's son, Connor McCaffery, is a redshirt freshman and plays the same position as Carton. But I've seen enough of Carton and the 6-5 Connor McCaffery to believe that they could easily co-exist and play together. They both have good size, are unselfish and see the court well.
Carton's grandfather also played basketball for Iowa in the mid-1950s and that has to mean something.
D.J. Carton by picking Iowa would follow in his grandfather's footsteps and make it convenient for his family to watch him play on a regular basis. The other five schools on his list are all at least a three-hour drive from Carton's hometown.
Iowa also has two top-100 recruits set to join the progam over the next two years and both are from in state.
Joe Wieskamp is a 6-6 incoming freshman from Muscatine and the all-time leading scorer in Class 4A in Iowa, while 6-8 Patrick McCaffery is Fran's son and a senior-to-be at Iowa City West High.
They could form quite a triumvirate with Carton, and you have to believe that has been expressed to him as a recruit.
Iowa only has one scholarship currently available in the 2019 recruiting class and it seems clear that Carton is a top priority.
I’ve always picked the field when asked what Iowa’s chances are of landing Carton. But that could change because Iowa has something unique to offer as the in-state school and that has worked so many times before.