Iowa hoops is back on the recruiting board. It took a while, but Iowa finally landed their first recruit of the 2021 class. And they didn't have to go very far to do it, picking up a commitment from in-state prospect Payton Sandfort out of Waukee.
All the glory to God! pic.twitter.com/BuwvGBGra7— Payton Sandfort (@payton_20_) October 2, 2020
Sandfort, listed at 6'7", 210 lbs, is regarded as one of the top recruits in Iowa in this year's class (ranked #2 by The Des Moines Register, behind only high school teammate Tucker DeVries). He chose Iowa over offers from Stanford, Utah, Minnesota, Drake, Air Force, and Loyola. Sandfort has been good for a few years, but really blew up as a junior in 2019-20, posting a sizzling stat line of 19.8 ppg, 8.7 rpb, and 4.0 apg (with just 1.7 turnovers per game). He's a particularly adept scorer from behind the arc; he made 44.8% of his 3s as a sophomore and converted them at 45.3% as a junior last season. That kind of long range accuracy could be a huge boon to Iowa.
Like so many Iowa recruits in the Fran Era (particularly in-state prospects), the story of Sandfort's recruitment comes down to Iowa identifying potential early and patiently pursuing a commitment. Iowa was the first school to offer Sandfort, way back in June 2019. 16 months later, they landed their guy. Fran hasn't landed every in-state recruit he's pursued over the last decade, but he has a pretty high hit rate, and a lot of that has to do with his ability to build relationships early with prospects and maintain them through the process.
Picking up a commitment from Sandfort is very welcome for what he can bring to the Iowa program himself (and more on that in a moment), but also because he represents an in for Iowa with a very talented Waukee team. Sandfort and DeVries are Top 150 recruits (per 247 Sports) in this year's class, and two more Waukee players, Omaha Billew and Pryce Sandfort (Payton's younger brother), are also ranked in the Top 150 for the Class of 2023.
Billew looks to be the most hyped in-state recruit since at least DJ Carton, if not Harrison Barnes; he already has a slew of high-major offers (including Iowa, Michigan, Illinois, Arkansas, and Georgia) and is ranked 4th overall in 247's 2023 Top 150. Landing a talent like Billew is still going to be a monumental task for Fran and the Iowa staff -- but having a good relationship with several players and coaches at Waukee certainly won't hurt their efforts. The younger Sandfort isn't a lock to follow his brother to Iowa City, but we've seen plenty of other sibling acts in Iowa City in recent years (this year's team is set to have the McCaffery brothers and the Murray twins), so playing in the Big Ten alongside his brother could certainly be a strong lure for Pryce Sandfort.
So what exactly is Iowa getting as a player in Payton Sandfort? First and foremost, high-level shooting. He earned his early recruiting plaudits from lights-out 3-point shooting on the AAU circuit, and as his 45% rate from behind the arc suggests, he's maintained that ability in prep action the last two seasons as well. But he's also a long, rangy athlete with the ability to haul in rebounds and a rapidly-improving handle. He shared point guard duties for Waukee a season ago and his skills as a ball-handler ought to continue to improve with experience. But if you're thinking he sounds familiar to some recent (or current) Iowa players... well, that's probably intentional, as the Register's Matthew Bain notes:
Think C.J. Fredrick, but bigger and longer. Sandfort will be able to defend guards and forwards at Iowa, making him a versatile, switchable piece on defense.
Bottom line: There's a reason Sandfort is the Register's No. 2 in-state 2021 prospect, and there's a reason he was current target No. 1 for Fran McCaffery — who has compared Sandfort to former Hawkeyes Jarrod Uthoff and Joe Wieskamp.
Sandfort doesn't have quite the size of Uthoff or the athleticism of Wieskamp (he'd likely have a bigger recruiting profile nationally if he did), but even if he's "just" a bigger, longer C.J. Fredrick? That would still be pretty damn good and an excellent asset for the Iowa program in a few years. And this is an even more bullish assessment of Sandfort's potential:
2021 Waukee wing Payton Sandfort commits to Iowa. Big addition for Fran McCaffery. Sandfort is an ELITE shooter with great length, high IQ. Strong defensive player, good passer. Hell thrive in Iowa City. Think Joe Wieskamp, but an even better shooter. https://t.co/IvuHowP64n— Tony Roe (@tonysroe) October 2, 2020
A better-shooting Wieskamp? If that's true... uh, yes please.
Check out some highlights of Sandfort in action here:
Welcome to Iowa City, Payton.