BOZICH | Tenacity replaced turmoil with Indiana's 2016 Big Ten champs
For Indiana, Yogi Ferrell leaves with two Big Ten titles, several school records and an IU program that reestablished its toughness.
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (WDRB) – Not many players wanted to discuss next year in the Indiana locker room early Saturday morning after the Hoosiers exited the NCAA Tournament against North Carolina.
Not the overachieving freshmen that coach Tom Crean needs to become reliable sophomores. Not the battered sophomores who should become healthy juniors. Not the maturing juniors who will become last-chance seniors.
Yogi Ferrell and Max Bielfeldt, seniors who will not be part of the 2017 team, were eager to talk about next season because they believe they filed a blueprint of tenacity replacing turmoil that changed the dynamic of Indiana basketball.
Ferrell and Bielfeldt were not talking pre-season Tops 10. Think bigger picture.
This season was a season in culture-building at Indiana.
Winning the Big Ten regular season title, including six wins on the road. Refusing to lose a single time in Assembly Hall. Winning two NCAA Tournament games. Nobody in the Big Ten won more.
Overcoming a substantial string of injuries, several miserable pre-conference performances and an off-season packed with distractions?
That is the legacy of this Indiana team.
“With these guys that are coming up, I feel like they actually see how you can win – and that’s just for one another,” Ferrell said. “I feel like with that, they can probably take it longer than we did this year.”
“It’s definitely a good nucleus coming back,” Bielfeldt said. “It’s going to be great. Coach (Crean) is going to do what he does and really bring this team together.
“This year is something to go off. We had a really productive year. Guys got better. And next year you can only go up from there …
“So much happened this year, a lot of good stuff. I keep reiterating, this team, I’ve only been here eight months and I feel like it’s been three years – in a good way. The bonding that this team had, everything we’ve been through and coming together. Winning the Big Ten. Making a Sweet Sixteen run. It was awesome.”
Subtract Ferrell, a four-year starter who leaves with the IU records for games played and assists. It was also the end for Bielfeldt, Nick Zeisloft and Ryan Burton, all graduate students in the Kelley School of Business.
Nobody will be surprised if Troy Williams, a junior, or freshman center Thomas Bryant attend the NBA Draft combine in Chicago during May. Let’s say Williams goes and Bryant stays.
Indiana would return four starters – Bryant, forward Collin Hartman and guards Robert Johnson and James Blackmon Jr.
For the last two weeks, Hartman played with raging pain in the bone in his right forearm. Blackmon missed the entire Big Ten and post-season after undergoing knee surgery.
Johnson injured his left ankle more than a month ago against Purdue – and then reinjured it against Kentucky. He wanted to play against North Carolina – and Indiana needed him to chase the UNC guards off the perimeter.
Johnson removed his upper warm-up before the tip and wanted to put himself in the game.
“Most definitely,” Johnson said. “I tried to tell the coaches I was ready. But like I said, it was out of my hands. They felt like it wasn’t the best thing for me, so they decided not to play me.
“It was out of my hands. We found out through some of the scans, it wasn’t just an ankle sprain. I also had a bone bruise and a couple ligaments that were damaged, too.
“They didn’t want to risk messing those up further. That was why they made that decision.”
Crean can fill his lineup with freshmen OG Anunoby, Juwan Morgan and Harrison Niego; Josh Newkirk, a point guard who has two seasons of eligibility after transferring from Pitt and a four-player recruiting class headlined by Colorado player of the year De’Ron Davis, a power forward.
“We learned how to overcome adversity from the beginning of the year after our losses in Maui and Duke and then James going down, Rob going down and overcoming all that to win the Big Ten,” Anunoby said. “That’s what we learned. This team was really close.”
That was not the dynamic in 2015 or 2014 when too many knuckleheads inspired critics to ask IU athletic director Fred Glass what was going on in Bloomington.
Transfers. Meet and greets with campus police. A traffic accident that put one player in the hospital. Seven guys who could have been members of this team either transferred or were dismissed following last season.
Turmoil was replaced by tenacity. Team stuff. Guys playing without eyeballing the box score. Guys urging the training staff to let them play when they needed to be sitting. Nobody griping about playing time or shot attempts.
Morgan said during the North Carolina game that he popped his dislocated left shoulder back into place without taking a seat. The teammate thing.
Not wanting to talk about next year was final confirmation of what a wonderful season Tom Crean stirred out of an Indiana team that stumbled into early December.
“Tom did a tremendous job to win the Big Ten and fight through the things that he fought through,” said Baltimore Ravens’ coach John Harbaugh, Crean’s brother-in-law.
“This group showed what kind of tough program Indiana is.”
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