IOWA CITY — Sherman Dillard and Andrew Francis were picked by Iowa men's basketball coach Fran McCaffery to help him play catch-up with the rest of the Big Ten.
In spring of 2010, the two were hired on McCaffery's staff after the program reached historic lows in losses (22) and empty seats. Among their top priorities was to expand the recruiting base both in the short term and for the future.
Initially, it was difficult.
"When we got here last year, it was what can we do now?" Francis said. "We’ve got to get this thing rolling now. This is what we need now."
"Whenever you come into a new situation, invariably not only are you a year behind — people say that we’ve got to catch up on this class — but conceivably you could be two, three years behind," Dillard said.
Dillard, Francis, McCaffery and associate head coach Kirk Speraw hit open gyms and games throughout the country in their first 20 months at Iowa. At times Dillard and Francis missed Iowa games to see prospects in Kansas or California. Wednesday, the first day of the fall signing period, many of those red-eye flights and six-hour drives will pay off for the basketball program.
Iowa not only will sign five players, but the Hawkeyes' class ranks as one of the school's better classes in recent memory. The Hawkeyes have a pair of four-star commitments in 7-foot- center Adam Woodbury (Sioux City East) and 6-1 point guard Mike Gesell (South Sioux City, Neb.). Woodbury is ranked No. 42 nationally by Rivals and Gesell is 96th.
Iowa also has three three-star commitments at different positions. Anthony Clemmons (East Lansing, Mich.) is a point guard, while Pat Ingram (Indianapolis) is a wing. Forward Kyle Meyer, who stands 6-10, hails from Alpharetta, Ga.
Van Coleman, a national recruiting analyst and publisher of Hot100Hoops.com, ranks Iowa's class currently at No. 11 nationally. Several other organizations have Iowa ranked anywhere from seventh through 19th, which is the highest in several years, Coleman said.
"The amazing thing people come up and talk to me — the AAU coaches, the high school coaches — they come up and talk to me about, 'How’s my man Fran doing,'" Coleman said. "He has a very strong group of people who think so highly of him out East. They’re in an area where every once in a while they might be able to get one."
Iowa's 2012 class adds talent and fills specific roles. Iowa has only one true center under scholarship after this season, so Woodbury and Meyer help in the post. Iowa loses its only point guard in Bryce Cartwright, so both Clemmons and Gesell fit that role. Ingram adds depth at the wing.
With the security of a strong class combined with a talented nucleus of players next year, Francis likes the advantage of selective recruiting for the future.
"I feel with this class being in place, it does give you a different mindset that you take as far as the future goes," Francis said. "So to be able to look ahead, to be able to kind of forecast ahead, I think it’s a good feeling.
"Now we can take a look at some young guys and really develop some relationships and really try to get more marquee guys here. Even at the highest level. But we believe anybody that we bring in here is a good player."
Iowa still has one more scholarship available for 2012, but the Hawkeyes can go in two different directions. McCaffery suggested last week the team could bank it for 2013, a year in which Iowa has only one available scholarship, or use it on a transfer, a junior-college player or a need position.
"It gives you some breathing room," Dillard said. "That’s important. Can you take a risk, can you swing for the fences on a couple of kids and what do you have to lose? You’ve got a decent core coming in. Now, again, we can be more selective on this next group that we take in, particularly when we feel like we have all the positions covered."If there’s somebody I think we’re really looking for, if we have to isolate and say, 'OK, what is it that you really need, maybe a terrific wing player, a 6-5 athletic wing player that can just play multiple positions and create his own shot.' But if I had to isolate, that would be the guy that we really, really need.'"