Notes and quotes from IUBB media, Nov. 24

Indiana will kick off its men’s basketball season Wednesday against Tennessee Tech, barring some unexpected change.

So ahead of the scheduled opener, IU coach Archie Miller and guards Al Durham and Rob Phinisee met with the media Tuesday, and the topics of uncertainties, inevitable rust, and what to expect early this season were all up for discussion.

Here are some notable quotes from Tuesday’s media session.

The unknowns

It was revealed yesterday that Tennessee Tech’s head coach had tested positive for COVID-19, shining some more light on the fact that this season could be a rocky one.

Miller acknowledged that Tuesday, saying he’s addressed that reality with his players.

“We talked a lot about the uncertainty of our season at the very beginning,” he said. “We talked a lot about not being too disappointed if things go wrong, whether that’s players not available, whether that’s cancelations, whether that’s pauses in your own daily schedule. That’s going to happen.

“We roll with the punches. We have to be ready with the game plan if things change.”

Cancellations just seem inevitable, especially because every conference isn’t testing every day like the Big Ten.

“I think you’re seeing, the minute you start to test more and more and more, you are going to deal with that,” Miller said. “Thankfully, the Big Ten Conference was on it early. I know they took a lot of flack with football, but I tell you, one thing, from a basketball perspective, we’re thankful as coaches, I know, with the direction they gave us and the precautions they put in place.

“It’s going to be very difficult with basketball. But the fact that all of our teams are tested every day, our guys are very confident every day, that if we do the right things, we’re going to be able to have a good year. Tennessee Tech, hopefully, I know they are dealing with a couple of their own situations, which we hope they are all doing well and feeling OK. Our hope is we’re ready to go tomorrow. If that changes, we’ll absorb the blow and we’ll move forward into the next one. We’ll see if we can’t get an opponent to make the game up at some point in time, I think that’s going to be part of this deal, just adding on the run if something would happen. If not, we’ll head to Asheville and make that our opener.”

IU’s shooters

Miller was asked who his most reliable shooters are at this point. That’s a hot-button issue for a program that has failed to consistently spread the floor in recent years.

But Durham, a senior, shot 38.3 percent from 3 last season, and his percentage has increased every season. Miller is hoping for similar advances from Phinisee and forward Jerome Hunter. IU’s three freshmen guards, Anthony Leal, Trey Galloway, and Khristian Lander have all shown an ability to hit shots this preseason, too.

“Al Durham is our best shooter, I think he’s a guy you can really count on, with him being consistent with it at this point in his career,” Miller said. “From a percentage standpoint, both Galloway, Leal, and Lander have all showed glimpses they can make shots, I think their percentage reflects shot selection a little bit.

“You’re going to have to get into the game and figure that out. Top three guys on the team, I would say, you’d trust to make a shot, to me, it starts with Al Durham. I think Rob Phinisee is a much-improved shooter, and I also think from 3, Jerome Hunter is an improved shooter from a year ago. … I think overall, we do have some more guys who can stretch the floor.”

On the injury front

Miller said the Hosiers are basically healthy. He did cite some back issues for center Joey Brunk. But otherwise, IU is at full-strength.

“I think Joey Brunk is the one guy we’re being a little careful with right now because of the little wear and tear he’s had,” Miller said. “He’s got a sore back. So we’re going to see where he’s at … he’s practiced the last three or four weeks really well and has really rounded into form. But it is a long season on him, if he’s a little sore, there could be some days he has to take a few days to himself, to rest him, and take some precautions.”

Freshmen will play

IU has seven returners who will play significant minutes, but Miller continues to say IU’s freshmen, including wing Jordan Geronimo, will see time on the floor.

With all of the uncertainty of this season, they will all be needed.

“I feel that all of our returning players are ready to play big minutes if they are asked to. I think our young guys are all going to see the floor at different times, some maybe more than others,” Miller said. “But I feel all four of those guys have worked their way to see action early in the season. Planning-wise, in the long game, you just don’t know who is going to be available for you at certain times of the year. Every single guy on your team has to sort of have a little experience moving forward. We don’t have a luxury of those exhibition games or a lot of buy games here in the beginning.”

On the rust factor

Because of a limited and restricted offseason, there haven’t been many scrimmages. Teams aren’t playing exhibitions, either.

Miller acknowledged that play may be sloppy early.

“I feel like as games get started here, you could see some teams that aren’t ready. I know I’m concerned,” Miller said. “I’m concerned with our group in terms of being physically conditioned to play a game, 40 minutes in a game, and to be able to play as hard as you have to play. Game shape is a different type of shape.

“But I do hope our returning guys are ready to go. I think those guys have been chomping at the bit to get back on the floor. I hope those guys are ready to handle more than teams we’ve had in the past. We have some expectations around here for those older guys that they are ready to play, and those younger guys can fill in line and sort of get with it.

“But I wouldn’t be surprised at all if these first few weeks of the season, games don’t look great, or some teams are working themselves into shape or their rotations are taking a hit early in the year, not knowing a whole lot about how they want to play. But I know we are going to have some trial and error. We’re an untested team when it comes to different lineups and rotations you can play. You can only do so much in your own setting.”

A lot on the guards

That being said, Miller is relying on his veteran guards to help steady the ship early. They can’t turn the ball over.

Miller also noted that sophomore Armaan Franklin is a year older, and 12 to 15 pounds heavier, and should be better equipped to handle the physicality of play in 2020-21.

“If the games are going to be sloppy, if there is going to be some teams that have an opportunity to beat you, one of the ways you get beat early this year is you don’t take care of it,” Miller said.

“I think Al is playing really well here the last week and a half, Rob’s been pretty consistent. Knock on wood, this is probably the most consistent Rob has been since really his freshman year, just in terms of he’s there every day with no nagging stuff that’s kept him out. Armaan is 12, 14, whatever he may be, maybe 15 pounds heavier, so Armaan’s a bigger better Armaan right now.

“We need him to get him going a little bit with some experience as well.”

From the players

Durham and Phinisee were both asked about helping IU’s four freshmen along.

“You’re so used to during high school being the best player, being able to do whatever you want,” Phinisee said. “Coming into college, it’s a lot different. Just being able to play through your mistakes.”

“Just taking them under our wing and letting them it’s OK to make mistakes, but you have to be able to fix them after the play,” Durham said. “So just giving them confidence and knowing we’re with them the whole way through.”

On the topic of uncertainty, both talked about controlling the controllables, as Miller instructed.

“He just let us know to stay locked in, when our number is called we have to appreciate the opportunity, take advantage of the opportunity,” Durham said. “We know games are getting canceled, things have been canceled. Being able to stay locked in and stay focused on what we have to accomplish and take advantage of the opportunity to play the game.”

On his health, Phinisee, who dealt with nagging injuries in his first two seasons, said he had a lot more confidence.

“I feel like once you’re healthy, that clears up a lot in your head, too, so you’re able to see a lot more things. Just being able to be more explosive going to the rim,” Phinisee said. “Having my legs back, I feel like it helps my shot a lot, too. Just being healthy, it’s putting a lot more confidence in me.”

And on the season finally starting, needless to say, they are both ready to get going. They were asked if March feels like yesterday, or forever ago, and Durham felt it was like both.

“It feels like it was yesterday where we stopped playing and we had to come to come back from Indy, but also, while you’re in it, it feels like you’ve been itching to play basketball against somebody else for so long,” Durham said.

“For me, I feel like it’s been forever ago,” Phinisee said. “We have been playing against each other since June. Since all of the COVID regulations, we’ve just been really itching to play somebody else. You start to pick up guys’ tendencies, you teammates. Really just ready to play somebody else.”