Indiana Basketball: 5 Lessons Learned About Hoosiers This Offseason
The transition period for Indiana basketball can be ably summed up in the above picture. Graduated veteran Jordan Hulls (No. 1), who experienced some of the darkest seasons in IU history, has passed custody of the program on to youngsters like Yogi Ferrell (No. 11) and Jeremy Hollowell (No. 33).
These offseason months between April and October are a time when IU fans, along with coach Tom Crean, need to learn a lot about the team that will show up in November. With more than half the roster consisting of newcomers, everyone needs a period of acclimation.
It won't be until the Hoosiers take the court for the first few non-conference games that we'll see what they've learned about each other. As for what we've learned about them, here are a few details.
The Cupboard's Not Bare, and America Knows It
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With the thousands of players in college basketball, having one invited to international competition is a badge of honor for a program. Two invitations equal a large measure of respect.
As we discussed here, Will Sheehey and Yogi Ferrell were invited to try out for the US World University Games team. Practices begin July 24 under the watch of Davidson coach Bob McKillop, South Carolina coach Frank Martin and Michigan coach John Beilein.
Beilein's presence could be a boon to the Hoosiers' hopes of making the team. Ferrell and Sheehey both played a role in IU's sweep of the Wolverines in the 2013 season. In addition, USA Basketball committee members Matt Painter of Purdue and Syracuse's Jim Boeheim saw the Indiana duo firsthand last season.
The teammates have the chance to become only the third pair of Hoosiers to compete on the same World University Games (WUG) team, joining the Van Arsdale twins in 1965 and the duo of Calbert Cheaney and Eric Anderson in 1991.
Five other schools—Duke, Iowa, New Mexico, Notre Dame, and Stanford—have a pair of players at the camp. Duke's Quinn Cook and Stanford's Chasson Randle have international experience, having won the inaugural gold medals at both the 2009 FIBA Americas U16 Championships and the 2010 U17 World Championships. Both are competing against Ferrell for roster spots at the point guard position.
Still, all six programs doubling up on WUG invitees are on Joe Lunardi's way-too-early preseason Bracketology radar. Indiana is still dangerous, and USA Basketball's inclusion of its veteran leaders indicates a recognition of that fact.
The New Guys Are Here to Work
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As stated in the intro, the majority of the Indiana roster is made up of players new to the program. They'll need time to get to truly know each other. Fortunately for Crean and his staff, the newcomers aren't procrastinators, and they've decided that there's no time like the present.
McDonald's All-American Noah Vonleh (pictured) started working out at IU on June 3. Graduate transfer Evan Gordon arrived for his first session later that week.
Others have been working out elsewhere, with Troy Williams attending camp with former NBA player and coach John Lucas and Devin Davis working out in Indianapolis with E3 Basketball Academy director Eric Gordon Sr.
Even though the IU roster is short on productive experience, the young guys are recognizing that they're not guaranteed minutes. The work they put in now will determine whether they're slapping the floor or waving a towel late in games during March.
Developing NBA Players Is Important
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IU fans should not have been surprised to see the above picture, of Cody Zeller at his NBA declaration press conference. Still, they were undoubtedly disappointed.
The upside, however, is that Indiana can once again pitch to recruits that it can develop even unheralded players, like Zeller's fellow expected lottery pick Victor Oladipo, into top pro prospects.
In an interview reported by Inside the Hall, Indiana target and fast-rising 2014 prospect Devin Robinson noted that IU was centering its pitch around such development. “They just talk about how they can develop me into a great player like Victor Oladipo,” Robinson said. “He (Crean) likes taking low key guys and making them work hard and just get to the next level.”
Likewise, 2014 forward/ex-Baylor commit LeRon Black singled out Indiana's development as a strength. "It makes you think you can go in there and get better too," Black said.
While some IU fans cling to the quaint and romantic notion of filling the roster with in-state kids who will stay four years, the game has changed. The top talents are already on the NBA radar, and they're interested in schools that can get them there quickly.
The more pros Indiana can produce, the more future pros it can get to commit. More future pros may help in the ever-lengthening quest to hang that elusive sixth national title banner.
The Academic Culture Is Back in Bloomington
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As recently as three years ago, Indiana had the worst Academic Progress Rate (APR) among Big Ten men's basketball programs.
Digging from under the rubble left by Kelvin Sampson's recruiting blunders and the desperate years at the end of Mike Davis' tenure took some time, but the process appears to have been successful.
Climbing up from a 929 average following the 2009-10 academic year, the most recent APR figures show IU with a perfect four-year score of 1000. Considering that Tom Crean inherited an APR that had cratered at 866 following the 2007-08 academic year, the climb to the peak is supreme validation for the coach and his program.
Only 12 programs in all of Division I attained a perfect score, with Notre Dame, Kansas and Texas joining IU as the only power-conference schools to do so. Butler was the only other 1000 school to reach a Sweet 16 in the past decade.
Every senior under Crean has earned his degree. Five players earned their bachelor's in less than four years, including Victor Oladipo, and the other four finished a master's degree by the time they exhausted their basketball eligibility.
"I think it's hard to describe because to us we live it every day and work at it every day, and we see what the players do every day and see how hard everybody works," Crean said in a university release. "But, when you really look at how few people achieve that nationally--and the fact that we've done it all these times now after what we inherited. That's when we put it into perspective. Knowing how tough it was at the beginning, the APR score that we inherited."
The full APR database can be searched here.
Future Prospects Looking Bright
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Even with only one spot currently open for the class of 2014, IU still has a lot of irons in the fire for its future scholarships. Several potential Hoosiers spent last weekend at the National Basketball Players Association's Top 100 Camp in Charlottesville, Va. Many of them made solid impressions and left with new admirers.
Indiana's lone current 2014 commit, guard James Blackmon Jr. of Fort Wayne, Ind., was voted by fellow players to the camp All-Star team, averaging 10 points per game. Joining Blackmon on the elite team was tall Texan Myles Turner, who's attracted interest from IU, Louisville, Arizona and Baylor, among several others.
Guards Phil Booth and JaQuan Lyle and forward LeRon Black also played well against the stiff competition, all averaging more than 7.5 PPG.
IU is also in play for 2015 guard Perry Dozier and 2016 big man Jared Swanigan, who were solid presences at the camp. Dozier raised eyebrows on the camp's first night by trying to throw down a tomahawk dunk over former Indiana target/North Carolina commit Theo Pinson.
Once again, with the NBA pipeline to get players' attention and the academic renaissance getting parents excited, it's perfectly reasonable to expect Indiana to continue recruiting—and landing—the best talent in America.