Iowa men’s basketball lost their two leading scorers from last season in forwards Kris Murray and Filip Rebraca. They also lost Connor McCaffery’s savvy and leadership — and Ahron Ulis transferred to Nebraska.
Tony Perkins, Payton Sandfort and Patrick McCaffery are the only key players returning.
However, it’s not the old that should have fans excited — it’s the new. A quartet of freshmen enter the campus in Iowa City with cache and potential, including Mr. Iowa & Illinois basketball: Pryce Sandfort and Brock Harding.
Forward Owen Freeman was one of the most highly coveted high school prospects in the country, and forward Ladji Dembele starred for one of the best teams nationally in New Jersey. Freeman, of course, teamed up with Harding to win a state title for Moline.
Head coach Fran McCaffery doesn’t just think this class is good, he thinks they can play right away and potentially even start.
“All four of them are going to play,” McCaffery said. “They’re all good players. They’re not mistake guys. They compete. Sometimes you have a guy whose body is not ready. And they all bring something to the table that’s a little different. That’s why I recruited them in the first place.”
Freeman grabbed 31 rebounds in two games overseas in the Hawkeyes’ trip to France. He said he sees some of the that same diversity on the court in the short time the team has been together.
“We have drivers, slashers, guys in the paint — I feel like our class is really good,” Freeman said. “I feel like we’ve all stepped up to play the competition we’re going to play.”
“Selfishly, I’d say we have one of the best freshman classes that’s ever came through here,” Harding said. “I think we’re going to get a lot of wins here when it’s all said and done. We’ve got a lot of guys that get along off the court and that shows up on the court.”
“We got a lot in this summer, so that’s good for our development,” Pryce Sandfort said. “All of us are capable of impacting this team.”
Dembele raved about the veteran leadership on the team.
“A lot of guys have been teaching me how to play,” Dembele said. “Just how to run the floor and how to get into our sets.”
Ben Krikke is still learning the ropes himself — he transferred from Valparaiso to play his final collegiate season. But he raved about the four freshmen in what he’s seen so far.
“Pryce just shooting the ball is unreal. He’s shooting it with confidence,” Krikke said. “Owen’s playing his game being bouncy with dunks, rebounds, blocks — all that good stuff. Ladji’s doing well and working really hard. And Brock is playing with all the confidence in the world, just being a leader out there at point guard.”
After a disappointing end to the 2022-23 season with three consecutive losses, the Hawkeyes enter this season with a mix of veteran leadership and youth. It all begins on November 7 against North Dakota, where we’ll learn more about what’s to come for Fran McCaffery’s bunch.