Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin are now officially free from their NCAA suspension. The challenge now is how to work the freshman Indiana big men into the lineup of the nation’s No. 1 team.
IU coach Tom Crean admitted on the Big Ten teleconference Monday morning that it wouldn’t be easy.
“We’ll just kind of take it as it comes,” Crean said. “That’s uncharted water. because we haven’t been in that situation. To me, they’ve done a very good job of getting themselves prepared. Doing everything that’s been asked. They’ve handled that extremely well for two guys that still really don’t understand why it all happened the way that it did. But it did and we’ve dealt with it. I think we’ll just blend them in as we go. I think the most important thing is that your team is cohesive enough to understand what it takes to win each game and you work accordingly. I think it will be a process, and how it is immediately is just too early to tell.”
Crean said that Mosquera-Perea and Jurkin had been practicing and progressing with the group, but suggested that they haven’t had the same workload as the rest of the players.
‘We’ve been very cautious with them coming back from their things, because there’s been no pressing need for them to have to play in the games,” Crean said. “You want to make sure that you’re doing a great job of letting guys get adjusted, be in the mix, not rush them, but try to help build their confidence. The bottom line is you don’t want to put anyone into a situation that they’re not ready for, especially in a situation like this when we’re already nine games in getting ready to go to game 10. So there’s been a little different schedule with those guys, because they weren’t playing, but at the same time, they’ve been a part of everything, and now it’s just a matter of game experience.”
It’s also at least a slight manner of health. Mosquera-Perea missed significant time with a foot injury in the summer and the fall. Crean gave a slightly convoluted answer when asked how long he had been back at full strength, but suggested the injury wouldn’t be much of a long-term issue.
“We’ve been very, very cautious with bringing him back,” Crean said. “Full strength is a relative term. I don’t know if I’d ever call it full strength. But he’s in a situation where he’s getting better all the time. He certainly would’ve been able to play. As to what level and to how long remains to be seen because we didn’t bring him back that way. In the sense when this became the situation it was with them having to sit out. I think he’s gonna be fine. As he gets integrated into the lineup, he’ll be fine. I think he’s going to earn his minutes. I think it will be a little less than usual at the beginning, but I think he’s going to be outstanding and the most important thing is he’s gonna be pain-free as he goes through all of this.”
Regardless of the injury, however, Crean said he expects Mosquera-Perea and Jurkin to make an immediate impact in the paint and at the rim. Both need to make improvements in their offensive game, he said, but their athleticism and wingspans will help the Hoosiers’ defense and rebounding.
“The length that they bring is tremendous,” Crean said. “There’s a toughness around the rim defensively without question Rebounding without question. I think the scoring will come through the course of the offense, through the course of the game. They’ll get integrated more and more into what we’re trying to do as far as plays and concepts and things of that nature. I think the overall attack and aggressiveness on the defensive end and then on the rebounding end is what will start it.”
Other notes from the teleconference and Crean’s radio show:
— Crean said IU sophomore forward returned to Bloomington from Indianapolis on Monday after surgery to repair the fractured patella in his left knee.
“We’ll try to get him acclimated again academically with it being finals week, and then very soon, the rehab process will start,” Crean said.
Crean said the Etherington injury hit the team extremely hard.
“Our guys took it really, really hard,” Crean said. “There’s a lot of different reasons for that. No. 1, they care about Austin. He’s their friend. He’s their teammate, he’s their comrade. He’s such a well-liked guy. A lot of these guys haven’t been through something like that. The older guys have. They’ve been through the injuries with Matt Roth and the injuries with Maurice and the injuries with Verdell. Not everybody’s been through something like this. It really did knock the wind out of them. It knocked the wind out of me for a minute. You’ve just gotta try to regroup the best that we can. We got the win. We played hard. It was never quite the same Saturday night. We tried to make it become more like that, but it was never going to get back to that point. They still did the job. They had a good time and they won, but it wasn’t with the same fervor that they had before he got hurt. And our locker room was tough. It was really tough, because they didn’t get a chance to get in there and say goodbye to him before he left for the surgery. He just had to move. Everything had to move fast.”
— Crean and the rest of the Big Ten coaches were asked about non-conference scheduling on the teleconference call and how much they put into strength of schedule rankings. Crean’s response.
“We don’t spend a lot of time on the strength of schedule part of it as much as projecting where we think somebody’s going to be inside of that year,” Crean said. “You try to look at the statistics. You try to look at their past, who they have coming back. You try to put some of those factors in and say, ‘OK, this team might have been this way last year, but they have these many guys coming back> This guy was injured. Whatever the situation is, and you just want to do as best as you can. As far as the higher end of it, we’re trying to counterbalance the Big Ten/ACC Challenge with playing a home game when we’re gonna be on the road and vice-versa, and then trying to find the best situation for us that year when it comes to the exempt tournament. I think the other thing is trying to play more in-state schools. We’ve been able to do that more and more.”