(Dustin’s Note: Apologies in advance for the quality and angle of the video.)
At this point, it doesn’t matter much to the Indiana players who they line up against on Thursday, just as long as it’s somebody other than the same 17 guys they’ve been playing against since June.
“We’ve been beating up on these guys for so long in the preseason,” freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell said. “Now we get a chance to go up against some other competition. We’re not gonna take this very lightly. We’re gonna go out there from the get-go, hit them in the mouth first before they hit us.”
For Ferrell and the other three members of the freshman class, today’s 7 p.m. exhibition against Indiana Wesleyan represents their first time truly under the lights at Assembly Hall in an actual full-length basketball game. It won’t count in the standings, but nonetheless, it will be a chance to wear the candy-stripes and the uniform and to try to beat someone else who isn’t wearing the same uniform.
“It’s gonna feel great,” Ferrell said. “I’ve been waiting for this day ever since I committed my junior year. It’s been a while. To finally go out here and play with people I’ve been watching for a couple of years and to finally be on this team is a great honor.”
In Indiana Wesleyan, they believe they have an exhibition that can at least show them something and be competitive to some degree. The NCAA’s rules for open exhibitions effectively require that Division I teams play schools below their level, because they cannot play other Division I teams and they can’t play barnstorming squads either because of NCAA rules changed in the last decade. Indiana Wesleyan is an NAIA school.
But the Hoosiers are at least playing one of the best teams they can find at that level. The Wildcats are ranked No. 4 in the NAIA. They return four starters from a team that was 21-12 a year ago and they are coming off a 91-74 win over St. Xavier in their season opener.
“They averaged 75 points last year,” Indiana assistant coach Steve McClain said. “They’re a team that plays uptempo. They run a lot of motions, a lot of back-cutting, a lot of ball-screen actions. They’ve got four returning starters from last year, and one of those guys didn’t start last night. … They’ve got a veteran team. What you want out of an exhibition game is a team that has a purpose, and they have a purpose, there’s no question about it.”
The Hoosiers are looking forward to the pace, of course. They led the Big Ten in scoring with 77.3 points per game a year ago, return the top five scorers from that team and add the speedy Ferrell to turn it up a notch.
“It’s pretty cool, because we like to play that way too,” junior guard Victor Oladipo said. “Get up and down the floor. Not shoot too many shots, we don’t want to go crazy, but shoot good shots and get up and down the floor. It’s going to be interesting. They’re a good team and we’re looking forward to playing someone else.”
The Hoosiers say they believe they’ve accomplished a lot in the five months they’ve mostly been together as a full squad and the nearly three weeks they’ve been engaged in full-tilt practice.
“We’re more confident,” Oladipo said. “There’s better togetherness. We were really together last year, but I think this year, we’re more together than we’ve ever been because we know we’re going to always have the target on our backs.”
And beyond emotional maturity and cohesion, Oladipo said he believes the Hoosiers are better on the court across the board.
“Our communication has gotten way better since the first day, especially with our younger guys,” Oladipo said. “They’ve come a long way in doing that and being leaders and they realize that they have a high road and we expect to play everybody.”
Note: McClain was asked about the eligibility of freshmen Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin. IU coach Tom Crean had been asked about their eligibility last week and did not say whether or not they had been cleared. An IU spokesman intercepted the question to McClain and said that everyone would be available for Thursday’s game except for the injured Derek Elston and transfer Jonny Marlin. Of course, Thursday’s is an exhibition game and would therefore not be affected if there were to be an issue with Perea and Jurkin’s eligibility. The spokesman said he was just speaking about Thursday’s game and did not say if they would be available for the opener.