Sheehey, Ferrell discuss Team USA experience

Yogi Ferrell got chills the first time he put the jersey on.

A spot on a World University Games squad was admittedly not something the Indiana rising sophomore point guard dreamed about as much growing up as making the McDonald’s All-American team or getting a major Division I scholarship or reaching the NBA. But hanging the same Team USA uniform that so many had won Olympic gold in still produced a deep visceral reaction.

“I felt like I was representing everyone back home with everything that we pretty much did,” Ferrell said Tuesday, the first time he and IU senior swingman Will Sheehey spoke with the media since playing in the World University Games in Kazan, Russia earlier this month. “Pretty much just putting on that jersey, it felt great.”

For Sheehey, a once-unheralded recruit who was pleased just to have reached the stature that would earn him consideration for that team, it meant just as much.

“Everyone really played to a certain level just because it said USA on the jersey,” Sheehey said. “I think that’s something really special that I might not be able to experience again. … Even the picture day when we first got them in Colorado, everyone was so excited.”

In the end, there were no medals to add to the jerseys. The Americans lost to Australia and Canada to go 3-2 in pool play, which took them out of medal contention. They won three straight games after that, pounding Finland 97-70 to earn ninth place, but that was well short of their initial expectations.

Still, both Ferrell and Sheehey performed comparatively well in their first international competitions respectively. Sheehey finished third on the team with 10.6 points per game and Ferrell was fifth with 10.3 points to go with 4.4 assists per game. The Hoosiers’ two likely captains and lone returning members of last year’s main rotation missed close to a month of work with their new teammates, but the experience of playing in a world-wide tournament is something they believe they can use to influence the whole team.

“We can just tell them that the game’s different everywhere,” Sheehey said. “Try to develop your game so that you can play anywhere. So don’t focus on one exact thing. Just kind of watch film on different guys and different things and try to pick up things from everyone. I think that’s what I did.”

The differences between American college basketball and the international game were jarring to both so it took them and the entire USA team time to get comfortable. They had to adjust to the fact that they couldn’t use their hands on screens at all but could use the body as much as they wanted. They had to get used to the fact that when they were on defense, a screen could come at virtually any time or any angle, even in the lane sometimes. And they had to get used to travel rules, which are much tighter in international basketball.

“The travelling calls were an absolute disaster,” Sheehey said. “We got used to it after a while. … When you first catch the ball and put it down (it’s called very tight,) but then once you can pick it up, it seems like you can take seven steps.”

But they eventually found rhythms. Sheehey, the Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year, started three of the eight games, but played mostly the same role as he usually does. Hustling on defense, getting to loose balls, and moving without the ball on offense to find space.

He was better than usual at shooting the ball once he got it. After shooting an impressive 48.6 percent from the field last year, he was even better in Russia, making 58.7 percent of his shots, making 37 of his 63 field goal attempts. The 35.1 percent career 3-point shooter was also 7-for-11 (63.6 percent) from beyond the arc, a brilliantly efficient number.

“My teammates did a great job of finding me throughout the whole thing,” Sheehey said. “… Pretty much my same thing here, moving without the ball. Once I realized where guys like to get the ball, I could kind of feed off of that and know when to cut, when to move, when to pass it and certain things. Really once I got a feel for everyone else’s game, they kind of got a feel for my game as well.”

Ferrell was splitting time with Colorado point guard Spencer Dinwiddie and had to take control of a team that he’d only been around through a seven-day tryout in Colorado Springs before the team went to Russia at the beginning of July. He had a 20-point win in a pool play win over Sweden, and though he shot just 36.4 percent from the field and 31.0 percent from beyond the arc during the tournament, he was solid at the helm of the offense with 35 assists to just 13 turnovers.

“I had to let everyone know that I wanted to lead this team to win,” Ferrell said. “I felt like they allowed me to do that. … I felt like they listened very well, even though we didn’t come out with the gold.”

That’s the one negative of the experience for Ferrell and Sheehey of course, the fact that they not only didn’t win gold but didn’t come close. But the fact that they rallied back after pool play and finished as high as they could after the two losses was still something they could be proud of.

“The team morale went very far down  when we realized we couldn’t medal,” Sheehey said. “But the thing was we recuperated, took the day off the next day and then came back and played three fantastic games and really put our team over the top. After we realized we couldn’t medal, we finished as high as we possibly could, so it almost felt like a medal to us.”