Indiana University Basketball
A Guide To Your 2014-2015 Indiana Hoosiers ● by Michael Roberts
It is autumn now, or as it is better known in Bloomington, basketball season. If you aren’t yet familiar with this year’s version of the Indiana University men’s basketball team, count on two things to fall this November: the leaves, and their jump shot. This team gets buckets. The Hoosiers got a head-start on their season by traveling to Canada in early August for NCAA-sanctioned preseason exhibitions against Laval, Ottawa, Carleton, and McGill universities, and the University of Quebec at Montreal. With four wins and one loss (to Ottawa), they came back confirming what we thought we knew about them — most notably, they can shoot. Shooting ability was the theme of this year’s recruiting class, and that’s what they will undoubtedly deliver. With a somewhat motley group in the frontcourt (forwards and centers) precariously supported by last-minute freshmen recruits, the team will lean heavily on the elite shooting and athletic ability of its guards. Eleven of the team’s fifteen players are freshmen or sophomores; “playing young” is an obstacle they will have to overcome. It also means introductions may be necessary. Let’s meet the new additions to our 2014-2015 Indiana Hoosiers.
Jeremiah April Center
Jeremiah April’s commitment to IU came as a surprise last spring; the Hoosiers needed help in the frontcourt after Noah Vonleh’s decision to enter the 2014 NBA draft, as well as the midseason departure of Luke Fischer, and Hanner Mosquera-Perea’s inconsistent play and availability. April was totally off the radar and his commitment seemed to come before the general public even knew he had an offer from IU. It was late in the recruiting process for 2014-15, but there was still opportunity for under-recruited players to receive offers from schools who found themselves in need of extra help. At 6-foot-11 and 240 pounds, the Joliet, Illinois native averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds during his last season at Westwind Prep in Phoenix, Arizona. He is raw; his skills need to be polished and his strength increased. He missed all of the action on the team’s trip to Canada with an ankle injury, and has been seen wearing a boot since then, so he’s been in a state of arrested development. When he does eventually make it onto the court, it wouldn’t be a surprise if it took him a while to shake off the rust and get accustomed to the higher level of play. Earning minutes off of expected starters Devin Davis and Hanner Mosquera-Perea will be a tricky job. Until we see him get healthy and play some actual basketball, it’s hard to imagine that happening to any meaningful extent this year.
Tim Priller Forward
Tim Priller was another late, surprise commitment seemingly out of nowhere for IU back in April. Most people responded, “Who?” and rightly so. Before IU came along, Priller only had offers from Albany, Drexel, Illinois-Chicago, and Lamar. IU head coach Tom Crean and his staff watched Priller in practice a couple of times in the spring before extending him an offer; what they saw from him was a unique skill set for a 6-foot-9 forward highlighted by his excellent shooting ability. In his senior season in high school in Texas, Priller shot 51 percent from three-point range, 48 percent overall, and 78 percent from the free-throw line. Speaking in June, Crean said of Priller, “I loved what I saw on film and it wasn’t just the ability to make shots, it was how he impacted games when he wasn’t shooting the ball. It’s drawing a charge at 6-foot-9 at the end of a game to win a game. It’s grabbing a big rebound. He’s got to get stronger.” Priller appeared visibly bigger by the team’s Canada trip in August, where he logged 44 minutes of action through the five games. He made three of his five three-point shot attempts. Another “raw” freshman, his role is likely to be just situational initially, but could grow as he adapts to the physical demands of college ball; his unique combination of size and shooting ability will help him get into games.
Emmitt Holt Forward
Emmitt Holt! Remember that name, because it may end up being a big one for IU this season. Holt is yet another unusually late commitment for IU; his commitment came in late August of 2014, so he missed the Canada trip. Holt was originally a member of the 2014 class, but decided to reclassify as a member of the 2015 class in order to grow his recruiting options; however, knowing IU’s desperate need for assistance in the frontcourt, new IU assistant coach Chuck Martin spoke with Holt about the possibility of visiting IU and again reclassifying to the 2014 class. He did so, and committed during his visit. Holt is more likely to be able to contribute immediately than April or Priller, though, because unlike those two, Holt has shown well at the highest level of AAU basketball. At 6-foot-7 and 225 pounds with senior-season averages of 19.8 points, 14.6 rebounds and 5.0 blocks making him a finalist for Mr. Basketball in New York, and AAU averages of 11.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks, Holt represents a physical, athletic, and, especially, defensive presence that IU greatly needs in its frontcourt. If Holt pans out and gives the team the extra rebounding and rim protection it needs, IU may be off the hook in regards to its frontcourt problem, and acquiring him a year early will prove a shrewd move. Speaking after Holt’s commitment, Tom Crean said, “We are excited to bring Emmitt to Indiana at such a late date…. He is coming off a very impressive high school season and also an outstanding spring and summer with the Albany City Rocks. He would have been a high level recruit this coming year and we are happy to have him now.” Chuck Martin deserves a big hand for Holt’s recruitment, and Crean agrees.
Max Hoetzel Forward
Max Hoetzel is a 6-foot-8 forward from Calabasas, California. He became a recruiting target for the Hoosiers only after he transferred to Wilbraham & Monson Academy in Massachusetts in order to gain more exposure. The Hoosiers visited WMA, but to see teammate Goodluck Okonoboh; WMA coach Chris Sparks recommended Hoetzel to them for his three-point shooting ability, which was something the Hoosiers needed. It never worked out for Okonoboh, who committed to UNLV, but for the next few weeks IU would continue recruiting Hoetzel, and two days after taking an official visit to Indiana, he committed. Hoetzel is a versatile forward who can do a little bit of everything. “He’s a lot like a Chandler Parsons type,” WMA coach Sparks said. “I’d compare him to Kyle Korver too, but that’d be selling him short on his athletic ability.” He needs to improve his stamina and strength, which are issues probably resulting from his ACL tear as a high school sophomore and later injuring his meniscus. In a July press conference, Tom Crean said of Hoetzel, “…strength is a big thing for him right now. He’s not coming in with the base that some of the others are, the physicality that he needs to have.” Assuming his strength imroves, another good NBA comparable is Tobias Harris, who has a similar height/weight profile, is a do-it-all small forward and can play power forward too. In Canada, Hoetzel averaged 5.6 points and 3 rebounds in 13 minutes per game. As the Derby Festival Classic three-point shootout champion, Indiana will rely on him to be a shot maker, and may utilize him as the trailing shooter on the fast break.
Nick Zeisloft Guard
Nick Zeisloft is a transfer from Illinois State University, and a redshirt junior. Having graduated from ISU in just three years, he has two years of eligibility remaining and can play immediately. In a press release announcing the addition of Zeisloft, Tom Crean said, “The addition of Nick allows us to spread and space the floor even more and play with more pace. More importantly, we are adding a young man that has been raised well and has been well coached throughout his career. He brings a physical and mental toughness that has allowed him to play at a strong level and brings leadership and maturity to our program.” Zeisloft shot 37.3 percent from three-point range in his career at ISU, and he is likely to be used as a transition shooter and a shooter coming off of screens, which are his strong points. He could find himself open in such situations as teams try to defend guys like Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. There will be a lot of competition at the guard positions this season, but as an experienced player, he may be able to earn extra time in situations where level-headedness and good decision making are particularly needed.
Robert Johnson Guard
Robert Johnson was a really important signing for IU. He was a consensus four-star, top-100 recruit by all the different rating systems, and his commitment, the first for IU’s 2014 class after James Blackmon Jr. had decommitted temporarily, created a solid platform on which to build the rest of the recruiting class. He addresses a lot of needs at once: being able to play point guard and shooting guard, and being a great shooter. Shooting ability was the major focus of this recruiting class from the guards to the forwards, and if Tom Crean could have found a true center who was a knock-down three-point shooter, he probably would have tried to recruit him too. Paul Biancardi of ESPN.com had this to say of Johnson after his commitment: “Johnson is one of the most complete guards in the country… he can play point guard or the role of a shooter/scorer in a pinch. The strength of his game lies in scoring, with three-point range and a pull-up jumper along with the ability to attack, drive and finish at the rim….” Johnson averaged 9.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.2 steals, and 1.6 turnovers in 24 minutes per game on the Canada trip, which is a productive stat line. At 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, Johnson is physically ready to contribute immediately. He will be a featured element of what the team does this season.
James Blackmon Jr. Guard
James Blackmon Jr. would tell you otherwise, but there is no doubt he is the centerpiece of this recruiting class. The 6-foot-4 shooting guard was a 4 or 5-star, top-40 recruit according to the various rating systems. He caused Indiana staff and fans a lot of joy, a lot of worry, and then a lot of joy again by committing to the program, decommitting to explore his options (and indeed it looked like they’d lost him), and then committing again. That was the moment Indiana fans knew things were going to be all right with this recruiting class. Blackmon is an elite scorer and shooter and will be a starter from day one. Yogi Ferrell led the team in scoring last season, but that is most likely to change with Blackmon around; Yogi’s assist numbers should go up, but Blackmon can pass the ball well, too. Opposing defenders will be making a huge mistake by leaving either one of them open on the perimeter. Blackmon led the team in scoring on the Canada trip, posting an average of 18.8 points, scoring nine three-pointers along the way, and shooting almost 87% from the free throw line. After a down season last year, some people may not be expecting much this year either, but I suspect IU will surprise people and Blackmon will be a huge reason for any success, and there will definitely be some hop-ons to Indiana’s bandwagon. “Beyond the scoring, Blackmon Jr. is an unselfish player, a good teammate and has already made significant gains in strength and conditioning since his arrival on campus,” said Alex Bozich, of InsideTheHall.com. If he can improve his defense, James “Jimmy Buckets” Blackmon Jr. should have a monster season.
Blackmon, Jr. Practices His Jumper At Assembly Hall
We already know the rest of the cast. Yogi Ferrell will be the starting point guard and the team’s leader; Devin Davis and Hanner Mosquera-Perea will split duties at power forward and center (though neither one has the size necessary to truly play the center position) and be relied on to rebound and protect the rim. Troy Williams continues to garner comparisons to Victor Oladipo, and can do a lot of the same things athletically. He will probably start at small forward (though his skilset is more guard-like), and rotate out for Hoetzel and others. Stanford Robinson will rotate in at the guard positions, and might also get extra minutes in three-guard sets. He will be relied on to provide a spark off the bench, and be aggressive in attacking the rim and getting to the foul line.
[Image at the Top: Yogi Ferrell scores in a game during IU’s pre-season trip to Canada.]
The major difference between this team and last year’s team will be having a plethora of players who can shoot really well. A more subtle difference that people are observing is that they have better chemistry, and play more team-oriented ball. The players believe it, too. “We’re more together off the court than we are on the court now,” Williams said. “Last year’s team, we weren’t as together…. Now everybody’s on one page and you can tell that’s how it is on the court. We’re not afraid to share anything with each other and we take accountability for what we do.” Robert Johnson feels it, too, adding, “Since day one, whenever we went out or whenever we went somewhere, we did that as a team. I know last year, they said it wasn’t like that.” After last year’s disappointment, we can think of this season as a new start. The shooters they lacked last year have arrived in spades, and the frontcourt strength they had has gone. This team, I suspect, will be better at overcoming its weaknesses Take a good look this season, Hoosier fans, because it might be the last time we see one or two of these players in IU uniforms before the NBA takes them away.