Newkirk growing into role with Hoosiers

Long days and longer nights are spent in the gym, lifting shots into the air.

Such is Josh Newkirk’s endless pursuit to be better.

He wants to be a better shooter, a better ball-handler and director of Indiana’s offense. After spending his first year at Indiana in the background following his transfer from Pittsburgh, Newkirk is finally able to put all of his extra work into practice.

“Where you look at where he’s headed, where he came from, he’s really on the rise,” IU assistant Rob Judson said.

Indiana needs that to be the case. Newkirk knows it, too.

He gives Indiana another tough, skilled point guard in a deep and talented backcourt. A pass-first type of guard, Newkirk is working to become more dynamic with his shooting and scoring abilities, too. Hence all the extra shots he puts up.

It’s important these days to have a point guard who can shoot with range. It’s especially important for an Indiana team that wants to have five shooters on the floor at any given time. Newkirk’s shooting dropped off between his freshman and sophomore seasons at Pitt, where he connected on 43 percent of his 3-point attempts during his first year but only 30 percent in his second.

So he’s trying capture the right stroke this season with Indiana, spending extra time in the Cook Hall practice facility working on his form on 3-point and mid-range shots.

So far, he’s hit each of his three 3-point attempts across the first two games.

“He has improved it tremendously from when he came,” Judson said. “I think his confidence has grown in it. His percentage will continue to rise as he takes good ones. He is gonna be very good off the bounce, especially in our pick-and-roll offense. He’s gonna be able to step in there and hit that pull-up jump shot off the bounce, which is the one thing he’s continuing to work on. His 3-point shot off the catch is good when he gets time and space.”

Shooting is only one aspect of Newkirk’s improving repertoire. He’s also looking to develop chemistry and cohesion in a three-guard starting backcourt alongside juniors Robert Johnson and James Blackmon Jr.

“I’m getting real comfortable,” Newkirk said. “I’m learning people’s tendencies, where people like to catch the ball and where their shots are on offense. I think it’s coming along.”

That’s important for an IU team that has mixed and matched different lineup combinations so often through the first two games.
Newkirk has averaged 7.5 points and 4.0 assists across that span, fitting in nicely with IU’s tempo offense. Newkirk plays fast — that’s one of main things that attracted him to Indiana upon his transfer late in the summer of 2015 — and gives IU a good pace.

Fully-recovered from a microfracture procedure on his knee in May 2015, Newkirk seems to be relishing the chance to run.
As the Hoosiers reviewed film of the first two games, IU coach Tom Crean’s staff narrowed in on Newkirk’s speed and found teaching point they’ll be looking for in tonight’s 7 o’clock game against Liberty.

With his quickness, the Hoosiers want Newkirk to be able to make great decisions on the fly. More reps and further work with his teammates should foster that process during the remaining run of the non-conference season.

“There was a stretch in the game (Wednesday) against UMass Lowell where we went seven or eight possessions without paint touches,” Judson said. “That’s a big thing with coach Crean, to play through the paint. Josh’s decision making in those situations continues to grow.”

Just like the rest of Newkirk’s game.

“I think as the season goes on, he’ll get better and better,” Johnson said.