By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - What Connor McCaffery is doing right now as a two-sport athlete and finance major at the University of Iowa is easy to take for granted because we’re not doing it.
We’re not the ones juggling both basketball and baseball with a challenging academic workload.
We didn’t spend countless hours working on two sports during the first semester, while also performing well enough in the classroom to have made the Dean’s List.
That’s what Connor McCaffery did this past semester, and it’s really incredible when you think about the time, effort, sacrifice, commitment and organization that was required to pull it off.
Connor’s father, Iowa men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery, was addressing the media on Thursday in preparation for Friday’s game against Michigan at Carver-Hawkeye Arena when the conversation shifted to his 6-foot-5 sophomore son.
Fran McCaffery was asked if he could envision Connor following in his footsteps and becoming a head coach.
“I think he might like to do that,” Fran McCaffery said. “To be truthful, I think his mother would prefer that he do something else.
“But he's prepared himself well. He's a 3.5 in finance, finance major. He's on the Dean's List. So he's set himself up to do something else should he choose to do that.”
The room broke into laughter when Fran McCaffery mentioned that Connor’s mother would prefer that Connor do something other than coaching.
One thing is certain: whatever Connor McCaffery ultimately decides to do after his two-sport playing days are over, he will approach it like he does everything.
Connor McCaffery has always been mature beyond his years, and that can be traced to his discipline, his work ethic and his meticulous approach to everything he does as a student and as an athlete.
“For him, it's always been there,” Fran McCaffery said. “It's just the way he's always been. He's kind of wired that way. Just kind of always took care of his business. On time. Not late. If something is due, he turns it in. He works on it, prepares. Gets ready for the next game, gets in the weight room, gets over and hits, gets in the gym and shoots, that kind of thing.”
Connor’s younger brother, Patrick McCaffery, on the other hand, is wired differently, according to their father.
“Patrick is a lot different,” Fran McCaffery said of his 6-9 freshman forward son. “He just rolls with it and is not quite as locked in and deals with things just a lot differently. There's probably a lot of reasons for that, but you know, Connor, he's never been a guy that you had to sit him down and say, you've got to do this, this, this and this, you've got to figure this out, you've got to get organized, because it's already been done.
“I think we would all like to be that way, but I wasn't. I mean, most people aren't, especially at a young age. Well, he's been like that as long as he's been going to school.”
Connor McCaffery’s situation is unique just from him being a two-sport athlete – he also plays baseball for Iowa – but the fact that he plays basketball for his father at a power five school adds another layer of uniqueness.
Connor knew what he was getting into when he decided to play for his father. Connor knew that he would be judged differently, and that he would have a target on his back as the head coach’s son.
Connor was asked on Thursday if he feels that he has to be better than normal as the head coach’s son.
“There’s definitely a double standard,” Connor McCaffery said. “There is, and anyone that says there’s not, they’re just wrong.”
There is more pressure on Connor McCaffery to perform, because unlike some sons of head coaches who barely play, Connor starts for his father and is averaging 29.0 minutes per game, which is third highest on the team behind Luka Garza and Joe Wieskamp.
Connor McCaffery also leads Iowa with 61 assists and is third on the team with 18 steals.
He isn’t a star like Greg McDermott was for his father at Creighton, but Connor is a significant contributor, and that can be difficult at times.
“There’s a lot of coaches kids who are on the team and love it, but the coaches’ kids that play, you think of the ones that standout; Doug McDermott would be one that stands out,” Connor McCaffery said. “He was so good and they loved him.
“But then there’s kids in the middle, and it’s harder because there is always the thing, ‘okay, he’s only playing because his dad’s the coach. Well, okay, it’s the Big Ten. That’s not a thing anymore. That’s a thing in third-grade basketball. That’s not a thing when you’re trying to win real games.”
Certain things had to happen in order for Connor McCaffery to receive a scholarship from his father.
It certainly helped that Connor grew to 6-5, but he also played extensively on the AAU circuit and for one of the top high school programs in Iowa at Iowa City West High where he won state titles as a freshman and senior.
Fran McCaffery watched Connor play against elite competition during high school, and the more Fran watched, the more he was convinced that Connor had what it takes to compete in the Big Ten.
“I think he started from day one at West High at a high when they were very, very good, had really good players, and he was able to run that team as a freshman all the way through, winning a state championship in his senior year, as he did when he was a freshman,” Fran McCaffery said. “But also just watching him on the AAU circuit, watching him -- Nike Elite 100, NBA Top 100. Look who he's playing against, playing against Tre Jones and Gary Trent, Jr., two first-round picks. Obviously Tre will be this year. And he goes for 29 (points) up in Minnesota.
“So I've seen him against really good players in very difficult situations, and he usually is pretty successful.”
Connor McCaffery said Thursday that he always felt that he could play at the Big Ten level.
“Yeah, definitely. I never really wavered on that,” he said.
His parents also knew that Connor McCaffery, who is the oldest of Fran and Margaret McCaffery’s four children, could handle the massive responsibility of being a two-sport athlete and a prize student.
Fran McCaffery was confident that Connor would fit in with the Iowa players because Connor already knew most of them from playing on the AAU circuit. They shared a mutual respect that made it easier for Connor to adjust to playing for his father.
“I think it helps him, pretty much everybody in that locker room he knew, or knows really well,” Fran McCaffery said.
It also helps that Connor McCaffery plays unselfishly as a pass-first guard. He is probably the best passer on the team and he never hunts for shots.
As for baseball, Connor McCaffery mostly plays right field, but he's in a tough position because the basketball season overlaps with baseball by over a month.
Connor played fall baseball for Iowa, and actually missed basketball media day in October due to playing in a baseball game that day.
It’s all about the team with Connor McCaffery. It just depends on whether it’s baseball or basketball season.
Combine that with his success in the classroom and Connor McCaffery is making something that is incredibly hard look easy.
That’s why it is easy to take him for granted.