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Iowa's Connor McCaffery fits in two NCAA sports, basketball and baseball

Connor McCaffery #30 of the Iowa Hawkeyes reacts

Connor McCaffery #30 of the Iowa Hawkeyes reacts during the second half against the Cincinnati Bearcats in the first round of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Nationwide Arena on March 22, 2019 in Columbus, Ohio.  Credit: Getty Images/Elsa

COLUMBUS, Ohio — One player on Iowa’s roster had to learn second-hand about the team’s spot in the NCAA Tournament bracket. Not that Connor McCaffery was uninterested or that he didn’t try to watch the Selection Sunday show. It is just that when the Hawkeyes’ assignment was announced, he was busy in a meeting with the Iowa baseball coach and learning he was in the starting lineup for the second game of a doubleheader.

That was a good call on coach Rick Heller’s part, too, because McCaffery went 3-for-4 with two doubles in that nightcap. Plus, he did not get in any trouble with the basketball coach for having missed the squad’s viewing party. The hoops coach knows how much McCaffery loves and excels at baseball, having been there for his Little League games.

“It’s a little different because he’s my son. Obviously, you’re hoping that he can maximize his opportunity. You would want the same for anybody else,” Fran McCaffery said Saturday on the eve of his team’s game against Tennessee (30-5) for the right to reach the Sweet Sixteen. He will be pleased to have the redshirt freshman guard Connor McCaffery off the bench and he will be pleased to let him go back to baseball once March Madness is over for the Hawkeyes (23-11).

The man for two seasons is fine with the arrangement, too. “I really try to focus on what I’m doing, one at a time, at that moment. If I’m in basketball, I’m fully in basketball. If I’m in baseball, I’m fully in baseball. My coaches have done a really good job helping me,” Connor said in the locker room before practice.

“I’ve tried to do the best job I can at getting reps in both while I’m doing the other. In basketball season, I would always try to get in and hit whenever I could,” the outside shooter/outfielder said, noting that Iowa pitching coach Tom Gorzelanny, a former All-Star with the Pirates, threw him curveballs during a busy winter. “It doesn’t kill me. I’m still able to come out and practice basketball just the same. I had a baseball game Tuesday but I was still able to practice basketball that morning.”

Last weekend was a doubly hectic one. Iowa was eliminated from the Big Ten tournament in Chicago on Friday, Connor got a ride back to campus from his mom Margaret (a former basketball player at Notre Dame) early Saturday and was available for pinch hitting duty that afternoon. He was on the court Friday as Iowa overcame Cincinnati’s de facto home court advantage with a 79-72 win in the first round.

“Had we lost, he’d be playing today in a doubleheader at Indiana,” Fran said Saturday. “Is it too much? I don’t think so. It’s what he has always done.”

As a dad, the elder McCaffery is happy that his son, a 4.5 points per game scorer, has played with or against his baseball teammates for most of his life. As a coach, he feels strongly that too many young athletes are too specialized. He is all for them playing multiple sports. “I honestly think it helps you tremendously to continuously be competing,” Fran said. “I think it develops you in so many ways.”

It has been pointed out that, despite his schedule, Connor has a 4.0 academic average. “That’s an exaggeration,” he said. “I get about a 3.5, so I do pretty well. Pretty much, I wake up, I go to class, I go practice, then I go home, play video games, watch TV and study. I do my homework. I stay on top of everything I can. There’s not a lot of wasted time.”

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