Drake stakes claim to MCC’s Caird

There were times, countless he says, that Chris Caird wanted to quit.

More than enough reasons to justify it, yet two overwhelming arguments not to.

Sunna and Benjamin.

Back home on the banks of the Olfusa River, Caird’s wife and son await the opportunity to leave Selfoss, Iceland, and join Chris in his pursuit of a dream – a dream that on Wednesday night became reality once again for the Marshalltown Community College sophomore.

Newly hired Drake men’s basketball coach Ray Giacoletti received Caird’s letter of intent after an accelerated recruitment prompted by former Iowa State assistant Jeff Rutter upon joining the Bulldogs’ new staff.

Caird was headed to Santa Clara after his freshman season with MCC, in which he scored 12.4 points per game and gained second-team all-ICCAC Division I honors. But the 6-foot-6 swingman sustained a knee injury two weeks prior to starting classes in California, and his scholarship was rescinded.

After a year of rehabilitating his surgically repaired knee, Caird was welcomed back to MCC with open arms by head coach Brynjar Brynjarsson – no matter how long the healing took. Caird was granted medical clearance to resume basketball activities in time for the season, and he eventually started in 29 games – playing in all 31 for the 22-9 Tigers – and gained first-team all-NJCAA D-I Region XI honors after averaging 17.5 points and 6 rebounds per game.

The versatile guard/forward shot 41 percent from 3-point range this past winter, 44 percent from the field overall and 80 percent from the free-throw line.

For all the hardship, all the hard work and all that had gone wrong, Caird said Giacoletti made Drake University feel “just right.”

“It was a long year after I got injured, a lot of people were saying I wouldn’t play basketball again,” said Caird. “I used that as quite a bit of motivation, and I was lucky to get a lot of (NCAA Division I) looks.

“The location (of Drake) is kind of perfect being an hour from Marshalltown. I took my time this time, took all my visits, and I feel this is the best place for me and my family.”

Giacoletti said he feels the same way about Caird’s fit with the 50-year-old head coach’s fresh start at Drake. The former Utah head coach was hired by Drake on March 28 to replace Mark Phelps, who was fired after five seasons. Though not typically a recruiter of junior college players, Giacoletti heard from multiple sources that Caird was someone he needed to target immediately.

“Thom McDonald, the commissioner of the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference, was actually the first guy who just called and welcomed me to Iowa and mentioned Chris, and my assistant Jeff Rutter and I – literally the next day – went up as soon as we could (to Marshalltown) to watch him play and get some game tape on him,” Giacoletti recalled. “I didn’t need to watch the game film after that.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this is crazy,” to say the least. We don’t typically go the junior college route, but if you can find them like Chris, it’s a perfect fit. We were lucky to find a character and academic guy like him. We have specific needs we wanted to try to fulfill, and to be honest we were just lucky and fortunate to be able to go right in our back hard and have Chris still be available.”

Caird said the former Drake regime never once made contact with him, and Giacoletti’s instant and strong interest was more than welcome. Caird, who hails from Daventry, England, intends to study medicine and found what he was looking for at Drake both academically and on the basketball court.

“I think everything happens for a reason,” Coach Brynjarsson said, “and Chris is in a much better place than where he would have ended up in the first place. He was great to have here at MCC, he was all-academic, he was a resident advisor his sophomore year, he’s a leader on campus – just a great addition for MCC, period.

“I think Drake is going to get the best of Chris. In the time that I’ve been here at MCC, I have never talked to Drake about any of the players that I’ve ever had. Giacoletti jumped on him the second day he was on the job, he made up a lot of ground in a short amount of time. They worked their butt off to make Chris feel like Drake was the right fit for him.”

Caird played three prep seasons at the FSU Basketball Academy in Selfoss, leaving his England home when he was still a teenager. The academy team is coached by a good friend of Brynjarsson – Brynjar Karl – and Caird came to the States to progress his game farther yet at Marshalltown Community College. Even after a knee injury knocked him off course, Caird kept his family at the forefront of his thoughts as he labored to get back on the court.

“I put the work in, I didn’t really have a choice in my mind,” he said. “Having a wife and son now, it’s kind of like, ‘I’ve got to do this.’ It’s not just on me anymore.

“I’ve been away from home since I was 17. I grew up quick after that. I had a pretty intense coach in Iceland, and I wanted to quit basketball a lot of times because it was tough.”

Chris and Sunna (Mjoll) were married last June, and he said Sunna and Benjamin would be joining him stateside sometime in June – though after their anniversary.

“We made it work, she stayed strong,” Caird said of his wife. “(Benjamin) is growing up quick. I’ll be so happy to have them with me.”

After inking his intent to join the Bulldogs, Caird said he counted up the Division I offers he had received during his sophomore campaign. Twenty-four of them.

“He’s so multi-dimensional, that’s what makes him so attractive to college coaches,” Brynjarsson said. “But Chris has what a lot of guys don’t have – a European passport. He could play potentially overseas. He’s 6-foot-6 and the way he shoots the ball, and he’s not a post guy but his strength makes him multi-dimensional.

“Chris is going to have a career in basketball, and Drake will be a big step for him to fulfill those dreams.”