Too-early-to-really-tell-anything player notes

Tom Crean invited reporters to a 45-minute workout today. The session began with high energy agility work, as players danced over and around little orange blockades. After a few minutes, Crean stopped practice so that the team could meet and speak with a young boy who was visiting practice.

“Do you have anything to say to the team?,” Crean asked as the hulking basketball players loomed over the frail, bald child. “Because I know you’re tough. I know that.”

After a few seconds, Crean offered, “Stay positive? How’s that? You’re going to lead us in a chant of stay positive.” The boy rattled off the numbers 1, 2, 3 and the team chanted before breaking up.

Soon they were running wrap-arounds, circling behind strength coach Jeff Watkinson and taking a pass before laying the ball in or dunking it. Fundamentals.

Then came the most brutal part of the session. Crean split the players who were there — Bawa Muniru missed the session due to a conflict not related to his eligibility, according to Crean — into teams of five and had them run fast breaks.

This is when we learned that Tom Crean expects his “fours” to be superhuman. Much has been made of Crean’s penchant for recruiting guard after guard; he even made reference to it during the press conference. But you do not have to watch the Hoosiers practice for long to realize who Crean considers the key to success.

He harped on Derek Elston, the forward out of Tipton, from the word go. It was Elston who had to grab the ball out of the net and inbound it, generally heaving it up to mid-court where Jordan Hulls was on the run. From there, Elston had to sprint the length of the floor because Hulls — or whoever he passed it to — would dash to the net and score a bucket. Crean hawked over Elston — and Bobby Capobianco, who played the spot for the second unit — as the drill grew more and more difficult, critiquing every move.

At first the units — I’ll break them down in more depth below — had to run just one fast break. Then they had to complete two in 10 seconds. Then three in 16 seconds, and finally five in 28 seconds (which turned out to be nearly impossible at this stage.)

Crean finished the full unit portion of the workout by running his team through an offensive set. Once again, the fours were a focus. Elston and Capobianco were charged with springing from the low post out to the high post to set up a pick and roll. The entire play, which of course gave the point guard numerous options, was totally predicated on how well the four did his job and how the defense reacted to it. Crean was once again watching those guys closely.

It’s completely unfair to try to glean from this workout anything more than the most rudimentary of thoughts about this year’s Indiana basketball team. But because the fans of this squad are so utterly insatiable, here are my thoughts. I’ll arrange the players into the groups they practiced with today, but it’s important to note that Jordan Hulls told me after practice that Crean hasn’t yet organized the group by expected prominence during the actual season. Instead, Hulls said, the goal has been to mix the players up and get them to know each other.

Group 1

PG Jordan Hulls

  • Hulls, last year’s Mr. Basketball who led South to a state title, is about where you’d expect him to be. His understanding of the game and solid skill set allow him to make up for what he lacks in size and natural athleticism. Crean already has a lot of trust in the 6-foot point guard, and it appears as though Hulls has, so far, picked up Crean’s sets fairly well. Hulls continues to be a very precise player who is always where he needs to be. What Crean needs — and what Hulls said he’s working on — is for Hulls to become a leader who orchestrates the action on the floor.

SG Maurice Creek

  • Creek is tired. He’s a bit beaten up. You’ll remember that he couldn’t join in summer conditioning due to an eligibility delay, so he’s lagging behind in that area. Crean and Co., in turn, are trying speed him through that process. It has taken a toll. As Crean put it, “You could push him and knock him over.” That being said, Creek still appeared to possess the most innate scoring ability of any player on the court. He’s also going to be a good defender, as his hands and feet are quick.

W Verdell Jones

  • Jones has spent his entire career handling the ball. Go ahead and YouTube him. You’ll find videos of a 10-year-old kid with the same sly little smile and gangly arms twisting and twirling the ball up the court. Jones views himself as a point guard. And he’ll get time there this year, because Crean loves having the ability to show different looks. But ultimately Jones is going to work mostly on the wing, where his size will allow him become more of a dynamic scorer. He and Devan Dumes, more than any other players, will benefit from not having to do too much this season. They’ll settle into more defined roles and have the chance to excel. But that new role will take some time to fit into, and you can tell Jones is going to figure his out.

F Derek Elston

  • Speaking of new roles . . . Elston will go from being the man at Tipton to being the glue at IU. As I said, Tom Crean expects Elston to do many of the things that makes the team work. Almost none of them are glorious. Thursday was just one glimpse, of course, and the four’s responsibilities will deepen as Crean continues teaching. But for now, Elston has to be very exact in everything he does. That can be a difficult transition for any player, especially one who has been accustomed to having the leeway to push his team to victory. Elston has all the tools to be successful and, as Crean is fond of saying, force his way into a new role. But for now there’s going to be a lot of teaching done, as was evident when Crean pulled Elston aside for a conversation long after the session had ended.

C Tom Pritchard

  • Pritchard is another guy who won’t have to do everything this season. He’s settled in to being the burly man in the middle, but is moving better than he did last year. He’s got real gusto for running the floor, and may be developing a mid-range jumper that could change the way Crean chooses to operate.

Group 2

PG Jeremiah Rivers

  • Rivers is easily the biggest mystery on this team, despite also being the most experienced player on it. At Georgetown, Rivers found a niche as a shut-down defender in John Thompson III’s rigid system. He came here so he could be more expressive, and on Thursday he showed off his high energy game. He appears to be a physical guard who has a solid all-around game. He’s prone to bursts of athleticism, though he’ll need to prove he can hit jumpers if he hopes to have the room he needs to operate. Rivers is still a top-flight defender, and will be a very good rebounding guard (as proven by one tip out he had today.) He has good basketball IQ — his dad is an NBA coach — but mostly has a certain swagger that nobody at Indiana has been able to have in some time. His game is exuberant, imbued as it is with a need to prove something. In that sense, Rivers and Indiana turned out to be a perfect fit.

SG Devan Dumes

  • Last year, Dumes often radiated negative energy and derailed his fragile teammates. Today, he was a calming influence. He’s the one upperclassmen who has really been through it as an Indiana Hoosier, and it showed. He has confidence in his 3-point shot and a new-found patience to find it within the offense. His driving has improved 10-fold, as he is more direct. He turned the ball over repeatedly last year as he meandered through the lane. He appears to be on his way to dropping that habit, as he waited for seams and charged at them when he had the chance today.

W Christian Watford

  • Watford’s size and skill continue to tantalize the imagination. The way he rises so effortlessly to the net on dunks makes you realize that eventually he’s going to be a game-changer on both ends. He’s clearly got all-conference ability. His focus now is on gaining strength and becoming more relentless. He drifted at times today, both mentally and physically, and may be the type of player who needs to be drawn into each game (with a couple of set plays drawn up for him, or a key defensive match up.) Which is OK. His talent warrants it.

F Bobby Capobianco

  • Anyone who has seen Capobianco play a minute of basketball knows there’s no changing him. He’s an energy guy who will use his size to try to secure the paint. In Crean’s system though, he also has to be part sprinter and part marathoner. Running the floor is going to be a challenge for him, and on Thursday he seemed to be struggling with some soreness in his legs (he wore wraps on his hamstrings and quads, and at one point stopped to stretch out his hips.) Capobianco is going to do whatever Crean asks of him, but is learning to do it how Crean wants it done. As the team practiced its offensive play, Crean exhorted Capobianco to sprint out to set his screen. Capobianco probably felt as though he was moving as fast as he could. Such is the adjustment to this level.

C Tijan Jobe

  • Jobe remains a long-term project who has a short time to actually help the team. He appears more ready to step in and be a physical presence should the situation call for it (if the Hoosiers need to foul or try to get fouled, for instance) and is more prepared to finish at the rim. It seems unlikely, though, that he’ll grow into more than a scout team player.

Group 3

PG Daniel Moore

  • Moore, who missed time due to injury this summer, is still getting back to full speed. He has a strong understanding of Crean’s concepts, though, and has spent time working on his defensive footwork.

SG Matt Roth

  • Crean praised Roth (along with Jones) for being one of the more improved returning players and said that he’s working to broaden his game. We didn’t get a good look at those changes Thursday. Roth has definitely gotten stronger and should be able to snag more rebounds coming off the wing this season.

W Brett Finkelmeier

  • The only two-year letter winner on the squad, Finkelmeier is still a defensive pest who probably won’t touch the ball much.

F Kory Barnett

  • Barnett was clearly filling a role today because Muniru wasn’t in practice. But that’s the value of Barnett: he’s a heady kid who will help the program. These type of guys make your scout team better; he’s a student of the game, and will work to replicate the other team.

C Steven Gambles

  • We though Gambles might make an impact last year. He never did, despite good size and athleticism.

3 comments

  1. It’s great to get an idea of how these guys are going to be placed into lineups. Sounds like there are lots of positives with these young players.

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