By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – Anyone who follows basketball closely in Iowa knows the hoops lineage of Connor McCaffery.
The son of Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, the West High standout grew up tagging along with his father to every practice, shoot around or game he could.
Now a 6-foot-6 senior preparing to play his final high school game Connor McCaffery is still that quintessential coaches’ kid.
He is still always in a gym, he looks at the game and discusses the game differently than most kids his age.
Almost an hour before a pre-state tournament practice last weekend as teammates shot baskets or played one-on-one before practice, McCaffery was in the locker room pouring over opposing personnel with West High coaches.
“He’s a mature individual,” Fran McCaffery said of his son. “He’s always been that way. He’s always been a very mature guy.”
Those that have followed West High the past four seasons have witnessed the on-court growth of McCaffery.
In four seasons McCaffery has gone from freshman facilitator to one of the best scorers in the state.
He has grown from a court savvy coach’s son to a top-notch team leader and has his top-ranked West High (22-3) team playing its best entering the Class 4A state title rematch against No. 5 West Des Moines Valley on Saturday at 8:05 p.m. at Wells Fargo Arena.
To be clear, West High is Steve Bergman’s team but even the long-time Trojan head coach admitted following Friday’s semifinal win over Cedar Rapids Kennedy that McCaffery had taken some of the burden off of him as a head coach.
“The truth is the last two years we struggled with leadership and these two guys have taken care of that,” Bergman said of McCaffery and fellow senior guard Devontae Lane. “We have guys that listen to them but they are doing a lot of my work for me.”
McCaffery has been an impact player from the day he walked through the door at West High as a freshman.
In his debut season, he led West High in assists helping the Trojans claim a third consecutive 4A title.
McCaffery will attempt to finish what has been a brilliant four-year career with a bookend title on Saturday in his final game in a West High uniform.
“There is nothing I want more to end on a win after getting a taste my first year,” Connor McCaffery said. “There is really no other way to say it, it is just extra motivation you want to go in and take care of business and play well.”
Heading into the 4A title game McCaffery has already put together the best season of his prep career.
He is one of only three players in 4A to rank in the top 10 in scoring and assists, averaging a career-best 19.6 points and adding 3.8 assists per game.
The assists have dropped slightly for the versatile McCaffery this season as he transitioned into the Trojans’ go-to scoring option.
Even in that role his offensive production is at an all-time high.
McCaffery is shooting 52 percent from the field and 42 percent form 3-point range and has scored 18 points in each of West High’s two state tournament wins this week.
“He’s playing with great confidence, I think he’s leading that team,” Fran McCaffery said of Connor. “I think he helps everybody sort of settle down out there. As you get to the state tournament, it’s different. You need sort of that level-headed person out there who can maybe bring out the best in the rest of his teammates.”
The 19.6 points McCaffery averages is 4.1 more than his previous career-best from last season and his efficiency is at an all-time high across the board.
McCaffery points towards an increased confidence for the climb in production.
In the past, McCaffery said, a bad or even average shooting game might cause him to pass up a shot or two.
Part of being the go-to scorer is not letting one performance influence another.
McCaffery went 2-of-8 from 3-point range and had 14 points in a January win over Bettendorf.
He responded with games of 24 and 25 points and has scored 18 points or more in 13 of 15 games since.
“You don’t want to start pressing after one bad game,” McCaffery said. “The Bettendorf game for me for example I shot I think 2-for-9 from 3 which is obviously not as good as I wanted to shoot but I felt good going into those next games. I didn’t get down, I didn’t start pressing I just tried to keep shooting and stay confident and that goes for everybody, if they miss a couple they are going to keep shooting.”
As a leader McCaffery said his job isn’t just to be confident but to instill that same confidence in others.
His teammates say he’s done that.
“Connor has a lot of confidence in his shot so we I really feed off his energy and his shot and when it goes well for him it goes well for me and for all of us,” Lane said. “When it starts going well for both of us we know how to get other players involved.”
Not surprisingly McCaffery has been at his best when his team has needed him most.
He has played 19 career postseason games at West High, nearly a full season of one-and-done games.
West High is 17-2 in those games with McCaffery as a starter including 9-2 in the state tournament.
After scoring double figures six times in his first 15 postseason games, McCaffery has scored at least 18 points in all four postseason games during his senior season.
“I think that’s kind of a key this year for this team is just enjoying the ride,” McCaffery said. “We’ve been expected to win a lot of games and I think just as long as we stay focused and have fun at the same time we will take care of business.”
Lane has been McCaffery’s right hand man during most of his prep career and dating back further than that in AAU and summer basketball.
Saturday will be the 12th state tournament game the backcourt duo has appeared in together, the maximum for a player in the state.
The plan for the two senior guards is to finish with a win.
“It means a lot, this is our senior year we have played basketball together for as long as I can remember,” Lane said. “It definitely means a lot because everyone looks at us as the old people, like when are those guys going to leave.”