Busting Brackets

What Payton Sandfort's return means for Iowa basketball in 2024-25

The senior forward could have declared for the NBA Draft, but opted to return to Iowa City for his final season.
Penn State v Iowa
Penn State v Iowa / Grace Smith/GettyImages

The Iowa Basketball team completed its offseason on Wednesday, gaining a crucial piece to next season's roster.

Senior forward Payton Sandfort announced that he would opt out of the 2024 NBA Draft and return to Iowa for his final season. Sandfort was the Hawkeyes' leading scorer in 2023-24 and looks to lead them to a bounce-back campaign after missing the NCAA Tournament last season.

Hailing from Waukee, Iowa, Sandfort conducted workouts with numerous NBA teams, including the Utah Jazz, Golden State Warriors, but decided on returning to Iowa after spending days on the road.

"The travel is really no joke like, you're going city to city for about a month and like I was in a hotel room like 18 or 19 straight nights," Sandfort said at a press conference Thursday. It was a ton of fun, learned kind of what it takes to be a pro and felt comfortable making the jump, but at the end of the day, just just felt the pull to come back home."

Let's break down what Sandfort's return means to the Iowa program:

Senior leadership

Despite the disappointing season in 2024, one of the main things that stood out to me was Sandfort's leadership on and off the floor. Iowa had a young team last year, and Sandfort was often seen mentoring and instructing the younger players after they made mistakes. Now, as a senior, Sandfort is happy to embrace the role of team leader after the departures of Tony Perkins and Patrick McCaffery.

"I think I've been you know, preparing for the majority of my career, you know, for this opportunity," Sandfort said. "I've always kind of prided myself on being a leader but, I learned a ton about whatever it takes to really develop relationships with guys on that level, so that they can trust you."

Iowa will still have some youth on the roster next season, but Sandfort's veteran leadership will go along way towards a successful season in Iowa City.

Shooting ability

Obviously, Sandfort is known for his lethal three-point shooting, which he shot at a 37 percent clip last season. Once he gets going from deep, he is tough to stop, as evident by his 30-point barrage against Kansas State in the NIT.

Sandfort's percentages from three are pretty good, but his quick release is what has gained him respect around not only the Big Ten, but the entire country. The Hawkeyes love to play a fast-paced style under head coach Fran McCaffery, and Sandfort's quick shooting fits the mold.

The one thing that has held Sandfort back throughout his Iowa career has been his inconsistency at times, as he often followed up sizzling performances with disappointing ones. One of those games came in the final game of the season against Utah in the NIT. In that contest, the 6-foot-7 sharpshooter was held without a three-pointer for the entire game and tallied only five points.

If Sandfort can consistently string together big outings, than the Hawkeyes could be a dangerous force in the 2024-25 campaign.

Team outlook

Iowa felt good about its roster well before Sandfort announced his return, but adding Sandfort to the mix provides this group with great veteran locker room presence and terrific offensive firepower.

Sophomores Owen Freeman, Brock Harding, and junior Josh Dix should take big leaps, and McCaffery also landed the services of Drew Thelwell and Seydou Traore in the transfer portal. Both transfers will provide Iowa with strong athleticism and rock-hard defense, something the program has lacked under McCaffery.

Needless to say, Sandfort feels very good about his team as the season rapidly approaches.

"I think the sky's the limit, and that's, that's going to be the goal and the expectation." Sandfort said.

Next. 10 mid-major winners from the offseason. 10 mid-major winners from the offseason. dark

All of the chips are on the table for this Iowa program, which should have more than enough to return to the NCAA Tournament and make plenty of noise in the new Big Ten.