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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

McCaffery hopes Speraw can help rebuilding effort

Good stuff from AP basketball reporter Luke Meredith, who writes about Frank McCaffery adding former UCF head coach Kirk Speraw to his staff at Iowa:

DES MOINES, Iowa — In a business where change is common, Kirk Speraw stood apart.

Speraw spent 17 seasons as the head coach at Central Florida, racking up a school-record 279 wins and guiding the Knights to four NCAA tournament berths. Speraw's seemingly endless stay in Orlando was cut short in March, when the Knights showed him the door and hired former Marshall coach Donnie Jones.

Instead of simply moving on to another top job, Speraw returned to his alma mater, Iowa, in hopes of rebuilding the Hawkeyes into a Big Ten contender.

Speraw, a native of Sioux City, Iowa, and a two-time letterman for the Hawkeyes under former coach Lute Olson, was hired as an assistant by new coach Fran McCaffery last month.

"It's a great profession and a bad business," said Speraw, who started his coaching career as a graduate assistant under Olson at Iowa in 1979-80. "To be able to come here is the most we could ever hope for."

Though it isn't how he would have drawn up his return to Iowa City, Speraw said Tuesday that he's excited about working with McCaffery in their efforts to turn around the struggling Hawkeyes. Speraw and Andrew Francis, who served under McCaffery at Siena, are the first two members of McCaffery's staff.

"I have tremendous respect for coach McCaffery and what he's done, and it's not going to take us long to get up and running," Speraw said. "I feel very, very comfortable."

Speraw said he isn't concerned about the transition from the big seat to one further down the bench. But he also knows that his homecoming will be a challenging one.

The Hawkeyes have suffered through three straight losing seasons. Iowa bottomed out at 10-22 in 2009-10, costing former coach Todd Lickliter his job after just three years.

"I feel for coach Lickliter. I think that, in a lot of ways, it was kind of like a perfect storm of things that kind of happened against him," Speraw said.

But Lickliter's dismissal didn't stop players from jumping ship.

Recruits Cody Larson and Ben Brust were granted releases after Lickliter's dismissal, and emerging forward Aaron Fuller transferred to Southern California with two seasons of eligibility left.

Speraw said the goal for Iowa's new staff will be to get the most out of the players they have while finding recruits who fit McCaffery's style and can play in the Big Ten.

"We've got to do what we can to make the players in the program reach their potential, individually and collectively. You've got to coach them hard, you've got to teach them hard," Speraw said.

The Hawkeyes' on-court struggles have also contributed to declining attendance numbers over the past few years. Iowa drew just 9,550 fans per home game in 2009-10, and on many nights the crowds seemed a lot smaller than that. Having fans pack Carver-Hawkeye Arena would help Iowa's rebuilding effort, but teams usually have to start winning to get the crowds.

"Our fan base has to be energized to create an atmosphere in Carver-Hawkeye that other recruits want to come and play in that environment," Speraw said.

Speraw said his role won't be clearly defined until McCaffery fills out the rest of his staff, but he's already hard at work.

"We know there's no magic bullet. It's not going to happen overnight," Speraw said. "We've just got to get in there and get the players rejuvenated and excited."


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