By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - Four members of the Iowa men’s basketball team, including the three newcomers on the roster, were made available to the media on Wednesday.
And you could make a strong case that at least three of them will have to be key contributors in order for Iowa to make the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in six seasons.
It could take contributions from all four of them for Iowa to be successful, especially if senior point guard Jordan Bohannon decides to sit out this coming season after having hip surgery in May.
Sophomore forward Jack Nunge, incoming freshmen Patrick McCaffery and Joe Toussaint and graduate transfer Bakari Evelyn all met with the media on Wednesday, and all four of them said they’re ready to help in any way possible.
It is easy seeing all four of them as key pieces in Iowa’s rotation.
The 6-foot-11 Nunge after having been redshirted last season is a year older, a year wiser and about 10 or 15 pounds heavier than when he arrived at Iowa in 2017. He said Wednesday that he weighs about 250 pounds and that he is stronger and more equipped to take the pounding in the Big Ten compared to his freshman season.
“It helped me grow in different ways than being a player on the court,” Nunge said of being redshirted. “It’s just another year of maturity that I get to see the game and know how to improve on it.”
Iowa senior forward Ryan Kriener met with reporters a few weeks ago and said that Nunge used to be pushed around on the court as a skinny freshman, but those days are now gone.
“Being able to be in the weight room more last year and just battling every day and learning their tendencies and seeing how they work and how they use their bodies to their advantage, I can really take that into my game,” said Nunge.
Nunge appeared in all 33 games as a true freshman during the 2017-18 season with 14 starts and averaged 5.7 points and 2.8 rebounds per game.
He also ranked second on the team with 25 blocked shots and fourth on the team with 21 steals, but was inconsistent, especially during the latter stages of the season.
He hopes that being stronger will pay dividends on both ends of the court.
“I’d say that strength is a huge thing at the college level,” Nunge said.
Patrick McCaffery would say the same thing, and gaining strength is one of his biggest priorities as he prepares to play for his father, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery.
Barely five years has passed since Patrick had a malignant tumor removed from his thyroid and the medication he takes has made it difficult for him to gain weight and add strength.
But he still scored over 1,500 points during high school to become the all-time leading scorer for Iowa City West High School, and he gives Iowa a multi-talented 6-8 forward.
Patrick said Wednesday that he expects to play mostly at small forward, which means that he and sophomore Joe Wieskamp will be matched against each other a lot in practice.
The 6-6 Wieskamp started at small forward last season, but it is easy to see him and Patrick playing together due to their size and versatility.
“We’ve been battling a lot,” Patrick said. “It’s been a lot of fun guarding him every single day. He’s obviously a real high-level player. You guys know that.
“He’s been teaching me some stuff. I think we’ll play real well together, and I think that’s something that during the year could get real fun.”
Patrick McCaffery said defense is mostly why he feels that small forward is his best position as a Hawkeye.
“It’s really about who you can guard on defense,” Patrick said. “It’s not necessarily about which position you play on offense.
“So it’s easier for me to guard a (small forward) than a (power forward). So that’s the position I’ve been playing most of the time here.”
Shifting to the backcourt finds Toussaint and Evelyn both in a position to play considerable minutes because the team needs them to deliver.
In addition to Bohannon’s hip injury, Isaiah Moss has transferred to Kansas as a graduate student after having started at shooting guard for Iowa in each of the past two seasons.
Evelyn stands about 6-2 and he said Wednesday that he is comfortable playing either guard position.
He played the past two seasons for Valparaiso after having started his career at Nebraska.
“I think I just bring, of course, some experience being that I’m a grad transfer at the point guard position,” Evelyn said. “And also playmaking and scoring, whatever is needed to help the team.”
Evelyn has struggled with injuries in college, but he said Wednesday that he now feels great.
“Probably the best I’ve been in my college career,” Evelyn said.
As for Toussaint, what stood out the most on Wednesday was his height. He is now listed at 6-0 by Iowa after having been listed at 5-10 in high school by some recruiting sites.
Toussaint also has lightning quickness and a certain toughness that comes from having grown up in New York City.
“My quickness pretty much that describes my game,” Toussaint said. “I’m just a fast guard.”
Iowa has been plagued by a lack of quickness at the guard positions in past seasons, so the addition of Toussaint is huge from that standpoint.
He also seems to have the right mentality for a point guard as shown when he was asked on Wednesday what he expects his role to be this season.
“My role this year is just to get wins for coach,” Toussaint said.