IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa men’s basketball media day wasn’t the typical meet-and-greet with the media on Tuesday. The point guard was compared to a two-time NBA MVP. The power forward showed off a new, slim physique. The coach admitted to calling the NCAA about rival programs paying players.
A lot went down on Monday. Land of 10 is here to recap it with the five biggest takeaways from media day.
1. Jordan Bohannon as Stephen Curry
Yes, Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery compared point guard Jordan Bohannon to NBA superstar Stephen Curry.
“He reminded me a lot of Steph Curry when you watch him play,” McCaffery said. “He can pull the jumper right in your face. He’s fearless. He’s got unbelievable range. But he can go by you and he’s a really good passer. He’s a much better athlete than people think.”
Yes, McCaffery is known to make over-the-top statements about his team and players. He is standing by this one. He first mentioned it to Bohannon during their first recruiting phone call when Bohannon was in high school.
McCaffery sees Bohannon, an All-Big Ten freshman selection, as Iowa’s version of Curry, the NBA MVP in 2015 and 2016. Curry is a sharpshooting point guard capable of creating his own shot, setting up others, and is as dangerous off the ball as when it’s in his hands. Bohannon can do those things for the Hawkeyes — and, yes, the sophomore knows he can’t do those things at the same level as Curry.
Still, opponents will pay more attention to him with Peter Jok gone. He’ll need to find ways to score. Emulating Curry isn’t a bad spot to start.
“The games in the Big Ten are so intense and so physical,” McCaffery said, “and there’s such incredible emotion that goes into them, especially when you travel on the road. You need somebody with those kinds of qualities, and he’s got them.”
2. Banner-worthy expectations
McCaffery didn’t hide from questions about expectations. He expects a lot from his team.
“We’re going to score the ball pretty much night in and night out,” he said. “We have too many weapons not to score the ball. But if you want to win a championship, you’ve got to guard people.”
Those three sentences sum up Iowa about as well anyone can. This is an offensive team, returning 11 key contributors. The key is defense.
If it’s there, Iowa will have a shot at winning the Big Ten title.
3. A new, improved Cordell Pemsl
Cordell Pemsl dropped 21 pounds from his freshman to sophomore season. The 6-foot-8 Pemsl is down to 235 pounds after cutting out junk food and soda from his diet.
“A lot of times when guys trim down like that, they don’t maintain the strength that they had or the physicality, and he’s done both,” McCaffery said. “He still plays strong and tough and physical. He’s able to hold his ground against guys that are heavier than him, but he’s running better. He’s obviously always been incredibly skilled and intelligent with when to go, when not to go, when to screen, what angle to screen on. He’s got great feel. So I’m really impressed with where he is.”
Pemsl is fully recovered following offseason sports hernia surgery. He is hoping the new physique helps him stay healthy and lets him build on his 8.9 points and 5.0 rebounds per game from last season.
“I haven’t had a season where I haven’t had a surgery since I was a sophomore [in high school],” Pemsl said. “Now, this is the best I’ve felt since then. So I’m hoping these changes will help me out in the course of my career.”
4. New kids on the block
The biggest hole on Iowa’s roster last season was in the post. The Hawkeyes lacked a true rim protector and natural center.
Freshmen Luka Garza and Jack Nunge will fill that void. Both posts are skilled player known for their offense. McCaffery is expecting both to contribute from Day 1.
“It’s not like we have to develop them,” McCaffery said. “They’re both really good players. They have versatile skill sets. They can dribble, pass and shoot. When you have two 6-11 guys that can do all those things, then you have high expectation for them, and they’re going to be right in the middle of it.”
Playing time must be earned. Tyler Cook and Pemsl both started at forward for parts of last season. Plus, Nicholas Baer, the reigning Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year, will spend time and both forward positions.
Regardless of how much Garza and Nunge play, they’ll add a different dimension to the offense.
“Their motor, both of them, is incredible,” Cook said. “Luka, he has a powerful presence inside. He is a banger. He can finish over anybody. One of the best finishers I’ve seen ever, really. Compare that with his outside touch and he is going to be great for us. Same thing with Jack.”
5. Fran McCaffery holds court on NCAA and FBI investigation
McCaffery discussed the FBI investigation into college programs allegedly paying players. His biggest revelation was saying he has called the NCAA on other teams violating the rules.
“I do it,” McCaffery said. “I’ve turned programs in, and I’ll continue to do that when I know that there’s stuff going on. But a lot of times you don’t know what’s going on.”
McCaffery referred to the FBI investigation and the revelation on players being paid as “isolated cases,” but added he veers away from recruits because of potential recruiting violations “every day.”
He said he is all for cleaning up recruiting and that the status quo will remain when it comes to recruiting for the Hawkeyes.
“We’re just going to be business as usual here,” McCaffery said. “Nothing changes for us.”
He hopes, though, change will come for recruiting in general.
“Maybe this is a game-changer with regard to the FBI’s involvement,” McCaffery said.