Despite (or maybe because of?) going 14-19 last year, this has been a fairly happening offseason when it comes to Iowa hoops news, with already announced departures from Ahmad Wagner and Brady Ellingson and NBA Draft intrigue with Tyler Cook and Isaiah Moss. We got a bit more news on several fronts after last night's team award ceremony. If you want to know who won what, you can check out a full rundown of the awards here, but the most interesting information to come out of that event was the insight into future plans for several players.
First up, Tyler Cook, who released an update about his future on Hawkeye Sports today.
"Playing in the NBA is a dream of mine for as long as I can remember and I am taking full advantage of this opportunity to see where I stand so I can make an informed decision for my future," Cook said.
The power forward said that rumors of him already having one foot out the door for the NBA are simply not true...
"I have two great situations," Cook said. Whether I go to the NBA, I will be reaching a dream of mine or coming back for my junior year is not a bad option either. When I have all the information in front of me I will be able to make an informed decision."
It's unusual to see a player releasing an update like this in response to some rumors, but maybe that's just the way things are going to be now. It is nice to get an update from Cook and some insight into his process. It doesn't sound like much has changed, though -- he's still going to take his time and take part in the NBA Draft activities available to him and then make up his mind about whether to stay in the draft or return to school. If he does return to school for another season, it will be at Iowa.
If he does end up staying at Iowa, though, it may come at the expense of another front court player. Cordell Pemsl spoke to the press after the awards ceremony and was vague about his future plans, as Chad Leistikow reported at The Des Moines Register:
“I don’t know. I wanted to be a Hawkeye since I was a little kid. Last year obviously didn’t go as anybody planned,” Pemsl told the Des Moines Register. “I’m going to keep working this spring and finish up academically and do what’s best for me.”
That sounds like a guy willing to transfer to another school.
“The choice is up to me,” Pemsl said. “I want to do what’s best for my career, on and off the floor. Whatever makes me happy.”
It's no secret that Pemsl had a disappointing sophomore season. As a freshman he played 19.3 minutes per game and averaged 8.9 ppg (on 61.7% shooting) and 5.0 rpg. As a sophomore, those numbers dipped to 16.4 minutes per game, 5.7 ppg (on 56.5% shooting) and 4.5 rpg. Opportunities were harder to come by with Tyler Cook playing more (Cook went from 24.5 minutes per game as a freshman to 28.0 minutes per game as a sophomore) and especially with the arrivals of Luka Garza and Jack Nunge to add more options to Iowa's front court arsenal. Nunge averaged 15.7 minutes per game, although he also played on the wing a fair amount. Garza averaged 21.7 minutes per game as a freshman and his arrival also made it difficult to play Pemsl and Cook at the same time (at least with Garza on the floor). There was no way to play Garza, Pemsl, and Cook together, whereas a year ago Pemsl or Cook were able to get time as undersized centers in some lineups.
If Cook does opt to return to Iowa for his junior season, it's difficult to see things improving much in terms of playing time or offensive opportunities for Pemsl next year. Iowa isn't currently bringing in any new front court players as freshmen (or transfers), but Cook, Garza, Baer, Nunge, and Kriener will all be here and will all be another year older and hungrier for more playing time as well. If Cook does decide to stay in the NBA Draft pool, then Iowa will have a big void to fill and Pemsl will be ideally situated to get increased minutes and help replace Cook's production. But it is hard to see a way to accommodate both of them for next year.
That said, Fran McCaffery did throw some cold water on the notion of Pemsl leaving in an interview with Mark Emmert and The Des Moines Register posted today:
“He might have misunderstood” the question, McCaffery said of Pemsl. “He’s fine. He’ll be here. He’ll be back.”
Pemsl's response seemed pretty straightforward to me and the issues re: playing time next year are very real, so it would certainly make sense if Pemsl was unsure about returning to a very clogged front court next year. We'll just have to stay tuned on this issue for now.
EDIT: Like Cook, Pemsl also has an update on his future on Hawkeye Sports in which he says he's "100 percent invested in Iowa." So: much ado about nothing? Perhaps, but I don't think we're going to have a definitive answer until Cook decides about his plans for next season.
Meanwhile, Isaiah Moss provided an update on his own status re: the NBA Draft and a possible return to Iowa next season.
Isaiah Moss says he will definitely be back at Iowa if he doesnt get drafted. Lots of unfinished business, he says.
— MarkEmmert (@MarkEmmert) April 10, 2018
Moss appears to be even further off the NBA Draft radar than Cook, so the odds of him staying in the NBA Draft pool seem fairly low. We wish him the best with whatever he decides, of course, but the odds seem pretty good that he'll have a chance to take care of that "unfinished business" in Iowa City next year.
EDIT: It certainly sounds like Moss will be back next season, per his comments to Mark Emmert for The Des Moines Register:
“I’ll be back for sure. For sure,” Moss told the Register before the team banquet Tuesday evening. “If I don’t get drafted first.”
Moss indicated that he entered the NBA Draft process to get more feedback from NBA teams and scouts about what he needs to work on. That's a pretty healthy approach to take, frankly.
Finally, we also got an update from Fran about how he plans to use the two open scholarships he has available with the departures of Wagner and Ellingson. One of them will go to Connor McCaffery, whose request for a hardship waiver (and an additional year of eligibility) was approved by the Big Ten a few weeks ago. (That means he still has four years of eligibility to play at Iowa.) As for the other one? Per McCaffery in that aforementioned interview with The Register:
“You look at a grad transfer. You look at a transfer as a possibility. But then if I do that, then I don’t have a ’19. I want to have a scholarship in ’19,” Fran McCaffery said. “So that’s probably what we’re going to do. Hold on to it and just go after the ’19 class.”
McCaffery's right in that he wouldn't have another scholarship available to offer a 2019 recruit if he added a transfer player with more than one year of eligibility (or a 2018 recruit, but that option doesn't appear to be on the table at all). However, a grad transfer wouldn't impact that scholarship at all -- a grad transfer would use all of his eligibility in 2018-19, leaving his scholarship open to offer to a player arriving in the Class of 2019.
Of course, this also presumes that Iowa doesn't have any additional player departures. Right now Iowa's only set to lose one player after next season (Nicholas Baer). But we don't know what Pemsl may decide to do this offseason and with Cook and Moss testing the NBA Draft waters this offseason, there's no guarantee that they're going to remain for a senior season in 2019-20, either. To say nothing of potential transfer moves that may arise from others over playing time concerns or other complaints. (And, obviously, there's nothing preventing Fran from moving Connor or Patrick McCaffery on or off scholarship, depending on needs.)
But, long story short, it doesn't really seem like we should expect any new additions to the Iowa roster this offseason beyond the two incoming recruits (Joe Wieskamp and C.J. Frederick). On one hand, that isn't too surprising since there haven't been many links to Iowa with the players currently available in the grad transfer market. On the other hand, it is a little surprising, given that Iowa was 14-19 last year and certainly in need of improvement in several areas to fix that record next year. At this point it looks like Iowa is going to be reliant on internal improvement and a boost from the arrivals of Wieskamp, Frederick, and a healthy Connor McCaffery.
Fran also addressed several of these issues in an interview with Todd Brommelkamp, Alex Kuhn, and Rob Howe on KGYM sports radio, which is worth listening to if you have a free 20 minutes.