Jager making the most of dream come true

He’s played all of 21 minutes during his two seasons as a walk-on, spending the bulk of his Indiana career on the sideline at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

As Johnny Jager transitions to the next phase of his life, the sideline is where he wishes to remain.

With his playing days winding down, the Bloomington South grad is preparing to begin a career in coaching after he graduates from IU this spring. That was his motivation for transferring to Indiana from Wabash College after a standout freshman season in in 2016, taking advantage of an opportunity to learn the business from former coach Tom Crean.

During his three seasons with the program, Jager has used his time as a Hoosier to position himself for a future in the game.

“That’s still the plan, definitely,” Jager said. “I thank Coach Crean every day still for giving me the opportunity to be here. Even how all that went, it’s been really helpful for me to see both Coach Crean and Coach (Archie) Miller’s coaching style, because they’re different. I still want to coach, so it’s nice that I can pick and choose what I like the best, and hopefully formulate that into a coaching career one day.”

Miller credits Jager for helping with the installation of a culture of hard work in the formative days of his Indiana tenure. Jager has only appeared in 11 career games entering Sunday’s Senior Day contest against Rutgers, but his contributions behind the scenes — and on the bench — have been no less important.

Teammates credit Jager for his outlook and energy, a strong-willed practice player who takes his role on the team seriously. Inside of games, Jager is often the first player to jump off the bench and greet his teammates on the floor during timeouts.

Gestures such as that, and the consistency of his approach behind the scenes and on the bench, have endeared him to fellow Hoosiers.

“Him and I have a lot of conversations after games and practices about what’s going on, and just picking his brain, he’s definitely got a coaching mind and a coaching mentality,” teammate Evan Fitzner said. “He’s just a basketball guy. He watches, like, every college basketball game. He’s gonna have a great coaching career, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he does.”

In the meantime, with IU fighting for a postseason opportunity, Jager is locked into the present and taking his role seriously.

“I think every role is important,” he said. “You’ve got the guys who play 40 minutes a game and you’ve got the guys, like me, who don’t get in the game but still play a role as being a cheerleader on the sideline. I think that’s very important because even the guys that do play, they tell me that they feed off the energy that the bench brings.”

Jager is eager to provide that jolt, rising from his seat after key moments, clapping his hands and even adding a few signature celebrations to the mix, too.

“I’ve got the bow-and-arrow 3, the Lance Stephenson guitar,” Jager said. “There are a bunch of tricks in my bag.”

After the season, Jager will be on the market for a graduate assistant job, hopefully, he says, at a high-major program. Maybe even Indiana. He wants to pursue a master’s in academic leadership and form connections in the college basketball world that might help him land his first job in the coaching business.

“You just have to put yourself out there,” he said.

But first, there’s Sunday’s Senior Day and the chance to offer a final thank you for the opportunity to come home and make IU’s sideline his own.

“To me, it’s just meant everything,” Jager said. “Growing up in Bloomington, watching every single game, I always wanted to be a Hoosier. I was a ball boy in fifth grade. Actually being here has literally been a dream come true.”