Iowa guard Connor McCaffery (30) looks for an open teammate during the game between Iowa and Southern at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday, Dec. 10. Iowa went on to defeat Southern 91-60. (Ben Allan Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Connor McCaffery and the road to recovery

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Connor McCaffery made his regular-season Hawkeye début after missing the first 10 games with mono. Now, the freshman tries to bounce back and give Iowa the guard play it has needed.

By Adam Hensley
adam-hensley@uiowa.edu

Question marks surrounded Connor McCaffery from the beginning of the basketball season.

The plan was for McCaffery to redshirt this season, play baseball in the spring, and then begin his Hawkeye basketball career next year.

A lot can change in a few weeks.

Point guard Christian Williams announced his decision to transfer right before the start of the season, leaving Iowa with little guard depth. McCaffery played in Iowa’s exhibition contest against William Jewell on Oct. 27, but that was the last time Hawkeye fans saw him until Dec. 10, when Iowa played Southern.

“I thought I’d get a couple minutes here and there,” McCaffery said. “I didn’t expect to play that much in the second half. I thought I’d go in for a little bit in the first half, same in the second half.”

The freshman guard played 17 minutes, scoring 5 points (hitting his only shot from the field), dishing out 4 assists, grabbing 3 rebounds, and notching 1 steal, all while only committing 1 turnover.

McCaffery’s 17 minutes were the second-most of any non-starter on Sunday, and his assist totals led all players coming off the bench (second on the team to only Jordan Bohannon’s 5).

“I want to get people involved,” he said. “I want to start the offense, initiate our sets or our motion game, and work the ball around … that’s what I pride myself in, making plays that point guards should make.”

McCaffery can play, there are not too many question marks surrounding his game, but his health is proving to be his biggest hurdle.

Earlier in the year, the Iowa City West product was diagnosed with mono, which kept him off the court for weeks.

Instead of participating in the Cayman Islands Classic, McCaffery found himself camped in a hospital bed, spending too much time doing nothing.

“His body was severely compromised,” head coach Fran McCaffery said.

RELATED: Connor McCaffery waives redshirt

Thanks to his hiatus from basketball, or any physical activity, for that matter, it’s all about rebuilding stamina and strength in his lower body. Connor McCaffery aims to rebuild his explosiveness, especially in his quads and hamstrings, he said.

“[It’s a matter of] just feeling confident — I might be there, but I don’t feel it the way I should, firing in my muscles,” he said.

However, McCaffery seemed to appear well at home in Iowa’s 91-60 victory on Sunday.

He kept his head on a swivel, continually looking to pass to open teammates in a game in which the Hawkeyes were able to completely break down the Jaguars’ defense.

Fran McCaffery said after the Southern game that he originally intended to play his son only a few minutes, but because of the game’s unique nature, he was able to stay in longer and become a consistent presence on the court.

“The way that game went in the second half with both teams in a 2-3 zone and the game pretty much decided, it was a little different,” he said. “I don’t think he would have played 17 — I don’t think he physically could have played 17 minutes otherwise.”

Connor McCaffery only practiced for three days before suiting up for his first official game in the Black and Gold.

It’s been a long journey for him to even set foot on the court, and it’s still an uphill battle, both mentally and physically. When asked if he had a target in mind for when he wanted to be back at full strength, he didn’t exactly have an answer.

“I hope it’s soon. But I don’t know for sure,” he said. “There are varying lengths for how long they say it can linger. I’ll keep lifting, keep working out, keep working on my conditioning. I’ll keep going.”

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