Je’Ney Jackson is dealing with the largest group of freshmen he’s ever had at Indiana heading into his fourth year as the Indiana basketball strength and conditioning coach. That means he has to do a lot of re-teaching and a lot of guys that he refers to as Level 1 lifters, to whom he teaches strength training in the most fundamental and basic terms.
But even with so much talent and experience gone from last year’s Big Ten championship and Sweet 16 squad, Jackson said he doesn’t have to play taskmaster as much as he had in previous seasons. Even as so many of the players who built the culture have moved on, the culture still remains and even returners who have only been around for a year are making sure the six incoming freshmen are approaching strength training the right way.
“Early on, it was tough because some of the guys, they really didn’t know any better, I guess, for lack of a better term,” Jackson said. “Now our guys, which is interesting to me, there’s things that coach themselves. There’s things I don’t have to say anymore. They’re coaching themselves on different lifts. They’re coaching themselves out on the court when we’re conditioning. I hear so many times, ‘No, no, no, no, go back, do it again. You took a wrong step. You did that wrong.’ Whatever. Now I don’t have to be the mean guy 100 percent of the time. I still got that in me, but I don’t have to do that every single guy every single rep to get what I want.”
And the players can be mean guys when they want to, and perhaps even meaner than Jackson.
“We had a couple of players thrown out of workouts earlier this summer,” Jackson said. “Not by me, by each other. ‘If you’re not going to be able to do it at the level that we’re doing it, get out.’ And they got them out of the workout. That is really, really the culture of your program moving forward when you start having things like that happen. Guys that really want to win and they really want things to be done right. They want everyone pulling together. That’s kind of where our team is now, kind of the state of the culture of our team. That’s really the state of our team, the culture of our team. That’s really what we’re trying to build here.”
Jackson said the freshmen themselves have quickly bought into the program not only in terms of strength and conditioning but all other facets. And they’ve also come together surprisingly quickly as teammates considering that they are not as connected as other teams have been. The Class of 2012 was built entirely from players who had spent time in the Indiana Elite summer travel program. The Class of 2011 had a pair of Indiana Elite recruits in Austin Etherington and Cody Zeller. The Class of 2010 featured two players who didn’t previously play together in Will Sheehey and Victor Oladipo, but it was just a two-man class and they roomed together as freshmen.
This six-man class has two Indianapolis natives and summer travel teammates in Devin Davis and Colin Hartman, but the other four players are from Massachusetts (Noah Vonleh), Virginia (Stanford Robinson and Troy Williams) and Wisconsin (Luke Fischer). But that hasn’t mattered.
“It’s crazy because we’ve got kids from Indiana to Virginia, they’re from everywhere, but how these kids have jelled together,” Jackson said. “To see them just talking to each other, communicating with each other, on and off the court. I’ll ask them, ‘OK, what are you guys doing tonight?’ Oh, we’re all going to watch a movie, coach.’ They’re always together. That’s probably the biggest thing. The other thing is how quickly they’ve bought in to what we’re doing and how quickly they’ve bought into the team aspect of things.”
— Jackson talked at length about Vonleh, who he said has bulked up from 231 pounds to 241 pounds in the eight weeks he was at Bloomington in July, and that he won’t be trying to add any more weight to his frame but simply strength to what he already has.
“His strength is ridiculous,” Jackson said. “Vertical leap is up. He touched over 12 feet. There’s not a lot of 240-pound college basketball players anyway, especially not ones that are 17 years old. Noah doesn’t need to get bigger, he needs to get stronger. I’m going to do even more things with him when he comes back to keep his body weight the same, but increase his strength and explosiveness.”
“It’s ridiculous,” Jackson said. “It’s stupid. I mean, with where his body fat is, he’s a lean guy. Two hundred and 41 pounds and to be as big and athletic and as agile as he is, I mean, conditioning for instance. He’s not running at the back. He’s trying to win everything. There’s times when I’m screaming at Yogi, “How is a 241-pound guy ahead of you in conditioning.’ He’s different.”
He said only one guy at the NBA Draft camp touched 12 feet. Vonleh’s already done it.
— Jackson said he has four levels of strength training and players must master each level before they move up. The highest level is Level 4, and those players, Jackson said, can do some very advance lifts. Among the things they can do is do pull-ups with a clap in between. This year, he said, Will Sheehey and Hanner Mosquera-Perea are in that group.
Imagine that for a second. A pull-up, a clap, and then another pull-up without falling off the bar.
— Jackson said he’s working extensively with the big men to improve their coordination in terms of catching the ball with a number of different tactics. He throws footballs at them because they’re more difficult to catch than basketballs. He also does tennis-ball workouts, and the team purchased “strobe glasses,” which change from light to dark at intermittent periods to make it more difficult to track the ball’s flight as it comes toward them, training their eyes to be prepared for it. Jackson said specifically that Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin’s eyes and hands have improved tremendously because of it.
“Oh my gosh, it’s not even close with how much better they’re catching the ball,” Jackson said. “When I say it’s not even close, it is not even close. And it’s just repetition. I kind of liken it to when I got to college. I played wide receiver when I first got to college. You’re used to a high school quarterback throwing you the ball and they’re throwing it at a certain speed, and you have time to reach to it. I get to college, as soon as I turn the ball is on me and it is coming fast. So you’ve got to get used to that speed. You’ve got to get used to the speed of the game. They’re getting used to it.”
— Jackson said both Austin Etherington (knee) and Peter Jurkin (shin) are making big strides in their rehab.
“Peter has come along really well,” Jackson said. “His strength is getting really good. His legs are getting a lot better. He’s never going to be a big thick-legged guy. His body is just not made that way. He’s never going to be that way. Tijan Jobe, same type of body type. He’s going to have these little bitty ankles and you’re not going to make these bones really any bigger. But he is coming a long really well. He’s still a work in progress. I’m pretty pleased with where he’s going. Austin, absolutely ridiculous. He’s dunking the ball with two hands. Before Austin was injured, his vertical leap is back to within half an inch of that, but his body weight is up about eight pounds from that. So his power output is a lot higher. Austin could not squat before his injury. He was squatting 300 pounds before he left.”
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