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Mutka: Yogi believes young Hoosiers can (w) hoop it up

Ben Jones Yogi Ferrell

Ben Jones, Yogi Ferrell

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Updated: December 6, 2013 6:10AM



Questions ... So many questions.

Having lost three-fourths of their offensive production and 70 percent of their rebounding, Tom Crean’s Hoosiers face an uncertain future.

In the Big Ten only Illinois is younger than Indiana, which is why middle-of-the-pack seems a safe choice for those disposed to making predictions.

Cream and Crimson? Make that Cream and Green, school colors which would best suit a roster with six talented, but untested freshmen.

“We lost four guys who scored over 1,100 points,” said Crean, presiding over the pity-party before his natural optimism surfaced. “We’ve got the culture moving in the right direction.”

Early leadership will be supplied by point guard Yogi Ferrell and chippy Will Sheehey, who graduates from sixth man to starter. They had ample time to discuss their changing roles this summer, bonding as roommates on the U.S. team which competed in the World Games in Russia.

It’s up to them to define situational basketball for rookies like 6-10 Noah Vonleh and 6-7 Troy Williams.

“We won a (Big Ten) championship last year because our guys understood situational basketball,” Crean said. “That’s new to this team.”

The upbeat IU coach is impressed with the special work ethic of Vonleh, who soaks up basketball knowledge like a sponge. Good to know about IU’s highest ranked recruit, who just turned 18.

“He understands how much he has to learn,” Crean said. “He’s got to be more demanding with his body and his voice.”

Crean also refers to Williams as the most talented athlete he’s ever coached.

Graduate student Evan Gordon, who started at Liberty and Arizona State before returning to his Hoosier roots, supplies ready-made seasoning. He shares the genes of former IU star Eric Gordon, who now toils in the NBA.

Maturity is not an issue with Ferrell. Wise beyond his years, the cerebral sophomore talked about what goes on between a player’s ears.

“Basketball is 70 percent mental, 30 percent physical,” he said at the annual Big Ten basketball media day. “I think I’m up with that.”

Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State have received most of the preseason hype, which means reduced pressure. IU will be the hunter, not the hunted. Ferrell understands that. You won’t catch him pouting about perceived lack of respect.

“It’s a little different,” he admits. “We might have a few doubters out there, but we try not to pay attention to what’s coming from the outside.”

Last year Yogi deferred to NBA defectors Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo. Now it’s his turn to embrace the spotlight. Part of it is being more vocal.

“I was playing with guys who knew the ropes,” he said. “They took me under their wing. Cody and Victor brought a workmanlike mentality and it paid off.”

Ferrell led IU in assists, which was to be expected. Scoring will require an upgrade since the selfless rookie only averaged 7.6 points.

“I may have to score a little more,” he concedes, “but being a point guard I’m not trying to force anything.”

Sheehey tends to speak in generalities, revealing very little about his role. Lob him a question and he’ll seldom provide the anticipated answer. He won’t even agree that he should be starting.

Leery of media hype, he suggested it might have affected the Hoosiers last season. Critics suggest they underachieved in the NCAA tournament, bowing out with a Sweet Sixteen loss to Syracuse, which advanced to the Final Four before losing to Michigan.

“We might have gotten carried away,” he said.

Being the strong silent type, he prefers leadership by example.

“If you do things the right way they will follow,” he said.

Working out in the weight room is part of the process.

“We have a leader board in there,” Sheehey said. “Every name is on it. It’s a daily competition. Some guys are better at squat, others at bench (press). Most guys aren’t good at both, but I’m pretty good all-around.”

Sheehey will flex his biceps early and often against a demanding non-conference schedule. Here’s a breakdown of early tests (last year’s record in parenthesis):

Washington (18-16)

The tall Huskies will muscle with San Francisco transfer Perris Blackwell, a 6-9, 260-pound powerhouse; and point guard C.J. Wilcox, who led them in scoring.

Syracuse (30-10)

The reloading Orange might struggle early. Their only returning full-time starter is 6-8 C.J. Fair, who averaged 14.5 points and seven rebounds.

Notre Dame (25-10)

Coming off their seventh straight 20-win season, the Irish make their long-awaited jump from the (not so) Big East to the ACC. Coach Mike Brey will introduce them with four returning starters.

Stony Brook (25-8)

Coming off their best season in history, the Seawolves return three double-figure scorers in Anthony Jackson, Dave Coley and Jameel Warney. They made it to the second round in the NIT before being dispatched by Iowa.

Wake up call

Iowa’s Hawkeyes are my choice for most likely to overachieve in the Big Ten. They return their top five scorers from a 25-13 season. Seven of their league losses were by four points or less.

Coach Fran McCaffery’s sleeping giants were NIT runners-up to Scott Drew’s Baylor Bears. Over the summer they also toured France and England, going 5-and-1 against professional teams.

Season ticket sales are closing in on 10,000 for the first time in more than a decade, reflecting a feverish basketball renaissance in Iowa City.



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