By John Bohnenkamp
The NCAA’s transfer portal can take away.
It can also give.
So, to be the Voice of Reason here, CJ Fredrick’s departure from Iowa on Monday isn’t a reason to panic.
Yes, the Hawkeyes’ roster from a team that won 22 games and was a 2 seed in the NCAA tournament is going to look a lot different.
Consensus national player of the year Luka Garza is gone. Joe Wieskamp is going through the NBA draft process. Jack Nunge transferred to be closer to family. Jordan Bohannon is likely gone, but has hinted that he would be open to a return for a sixth year.
And now Fredrick is departing. So that’s five of the Hawkeyes’ top six scorers who won’t be or may not be back.
That hurts. But it’s a long way from April 19 to the beginning of the academic year for Iowa and coach Fran McCaffery to find replacements, and with a transfer portal full of almost 1,400 names, anything is possible.
Fredrick’s loss could be painful. He averaged 7.5 points per game last season, but made 47.4 percent of his 3-pointers and was arguably the Hawkeyes’ best defender. His absence played a key role in a late January-early February stretch of four losses in five games.
Still, he can be replaced.
Iowa has eight returning scholarship players — guards Joe Toussaint, Ahron Ulis, Connor McCaffery and Tony Perkins, forwards Patrick McCaffery, Keegan Murray and Kris Murray, and center Josh Ogundele. Forward Payton Sandfort signed with the Hawkeyes in the fall, and center Riley Mulvey, a 2022 commitment, has reclassified to the 2021 class.
That leaves three scholarships for Fran McCaffery to fill. He said during a media availability last week that finding a post player is a priority, which means he at least is going to take a run at players in the portal. The shopping list looks a little longer today.
McCaffery has never been keen on transfers before-*, but a.) he has taken them to fill specific needs and b.) the transfer world has changed with the portal and the new rule that players can transfer once and not have to sit out a year.
*-I would, however, like to see the Venn diagram of those on social media criticizing the lack of transfers to Iowa and McCaffery’s unwillingness to go that route, with those who have laughed at other schools for taking transfers.
McCaffery hasn’t taken many transfers because there hasn’t been much of a need to in the past. Plus, it was more difficult to take transfers in the past because of the rule that, unless the NCAA granted a waiver, players who went from one school to another had to sit out a year. Now, it’s different.
What looks to be roster chaos now, though, could be settled any number of ways between now and late August.
• There are minutes to be had. Fredrick started 27 games last season, and averaged 25 minutes. Many transfers are turned off by perceived lack of opportunity, but there is opportunity in the Iowa backcourt, and given the Hawkeyes’ fast-paced style of play, would look good to a player in the portal.
Connor McCaffery has the most starting experience, but he will be coming off two hip surgeries during the offseason and a return to full-time play could be slow. Toussaint has the most starting experience — he started the bulk of the 2019-2020 season after Bohannon went out with his second hip surgery. Perkins played a significant role off the bench at times, especially late in the season, but he and Ulis will have to grow with more playing time.
• A wing player may be on the shopping list. Wieskamp is testing the draft process while retaining his NCAA eligibility, but it’s unclear if he’ll be back. If he gets invited to the NBA’s draft combine, he’s likely gone.
So, McCaffery could be looking for a 6-6/6-7 shooter. Again, the portal is full of those.
• Maybe Bohannon and/or Wieskamp return. Both have held open the possibility — McCaffery said last week he had met with Bohannon to discuss it and the two would be meeting again.
Wieskamp averaged 14.8 points. Bohannon, the program’s all-time leading 3-point shooter, averaged 10.6 points.
Getting one back would help. Getting both back would be huge. But it’s better to approach the offseason as if neither will return.
• The jucos are still out there. In this odd season during the COVID-19 pandemic, the junior college season is going on — the NJCAA Division I national tournament is being held this week in Hutchinson, Kansas.
In a year when coaches couldn’t go out and make face-to-face recruiting visits, there is plenty of juco talent still available. It’s another rare route for McCaffery, but it is a different world, and minds have to be open to any possibilities.
• Get used to this. McCaffery made it clear last week that, while his approach will try to remain the same, building a team will be different. That time is now here for the Hawkeyes, and everyone else in college sports.
“We’re going to continue to do the best we can to build it that way,” McCaffery said last week. “But again, guys may leave and then you’ve got to replace them. You replace them with somebody from high school, you replace them from somebody in the portal. We have occasionally signed junior-college guys. Your team will fluctuate a lot more than it has in the past. But I keep saying the same thing — that’s where we’re at.”
In other words, there is a long way to go before the next season.
Photo: CJ Fredrick announced on Monday that he would be leaving Iowa and entering the NCAA transfer portal. (Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com)