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IU Media Day Notebook: The season of sacrifice

With Hoosier Hysteria marking the start of Indiana’s 2018-19 basketball season, Indiana held its annual media day on Wednesday. The team photo was taken, the fog machine triggered Assembly Hall’s fire alarm, and we spoke with each and every member of Archie Miller‘s roster. Here are a few themes from Wednesday that will almost certainly continue through the year:

Miller’s Minutes

Jerome Hunter, Romeo Langford, and Damezi Anderson at IU Media Day. (Josh Eastern/HN)

It’s going to be battle for minutes at Indiana this season. Between a heralded freshmen class, the returning production, and a grad transfer in Evan Fitzner, there are easily 13 players that the Hoosiers could use in 2018-19. But Miller may want to refine his rotations further, for the sake of clarity. Wednesday at Assembly Hall, there were questions surrounding how Indiana’s players are working to define their roles heading into the season. There are a few givens, of course: Juwan Morgan, Romeo Langford, and a healthy De’Ron Davis will certainly start. Justin Smith, Aljami Durham, and Devonte Green are all poised for improved, exciting seasons. The Hoosiers have questions, like any team in September: Who starts at point guard? Will it be the true freshman Rob Phinisee? And how does Fitzner, the versatile 6-foot-10 St. Mary’s graduate transfer, fit into Miller’s rotation? How much of an impact do the remaining freshmen of Jerome Hunter, Damezi Anderson, and Jake Forrester make, and when do they make it? The list goes on further, with glue-guy Zach McRoberts in his final season, Clifton Moore learning from his first, and Race Thompson now active following his freshman redshirt year.

Indiana has its most pieces since the Hoosiers won the Big Ten in 2015-16. At least on paper, IU appears versatile and deep. But how will certain players, such as Langford, transition from having to score in high school to knowing how to score in college? And how much will everyone play? Time will tell. Indiana opens its regular season against Chicago State on November 6th.

“There’s going to be some sacrifice this year,” Miller said. “And painting that picture for them sometimes isn’t easy for them to see until sometimes their first game when only five of them take the floor. But there’s going to be some serious sacrifices, not just from Romeo but Juwan to every single guy that just wants to contribute.”

Miller hinted that in order for Indiana to live up to its talent and potential, the Hoosiers must play nine or ten players in their rotation. Indiana’s head coach has now had his second offseason in Bloomington and his first true recruiting class. He called last year as starting at ‘ground zero.’ This year is remarkably different, and it starts with how Indiana’s depth will unfold.

“This has to be a team of depth and togetherness this year,” Miller said. “It really does. If we’re not playing nine, ten guys, then we’re not getting the maximum out of everybody on the team.”

When asked about how their roles might develop before the season gets underway, IU’s players were vocal in not concerning themselves with their minutes. At the end of the day, though, it’s a delicate situation. Players are here to play. It’s a good problem to have if you’re Miller, but a delicate one nonetheless.

“I think that’s important for a successful team,” McRoberts said of the sacrifice. “Understanding it’s a team aspect and guys can bring different things to the table and should just be ready (for) when your number is called to go out there and perform. But it might be — it should be, good. The competition is healthy competition for us.

Fresh Faces, Fresh Expectations

Let’s face it, there wasn’t many expectations for this Indiana program a year ago. The high point was an impressive win against Notre Dame in the Crossroads Classic. A four-game winning streak in February Big Ten play made things interesting, but a loss to Rutgers in the Big Ten Tournament ended Miller’s first season rather abruptly. For one, Indiana was young and adapting to a new system with Miller’s hiring. There were defensive lapses, and the Hoosiers were the Big Ten’s 13th-best team in 3-point field goal percentage.

Boy, have times changed. From the commitments of Langford and Fitzner, to keeping Morgan in Bloomington for his senior season, there are serious expectations in Bloomington. Langford and Davis both cited a national championship as Indiana’s goal. It’s every team’s goal, if we’re being honest here. But there’s no way Indiana would have mentioned the national championship a season ago. Not weeks before losses to Indiana State and Fort Wayne. It just shows that Indiana has come a long way in the last calendar year, and how they have done so.

“My expectation is to win a National Championship,” Langford said. “I don’t go into any season just trying to win a couple games. I go in trying to win the whole entire championship. Really my expectation for myself for bringing to the team is just be whatever — be the best I can be, and I feel like me doing that is going to help the team be successful down the road.”

I don’t think we’re having this conversation if Miller doesn’t land a top-ten recruiting class. It goes far beyond Langford, fourth on Indiana’s all-time high school scoring list. Hunter, Forrester, and Anderson are all perfectly capable in making a lasting impact here. The Hoosiers are getting a much-needed scoring guard in Langford, something they clearly lacked a season ago. They’re also getting elite athleticism in the rest of Miller’s 2018 class, and a 6-foot-10 forward in Fitzner that adds size and perimeter shooting in the frontcourt.

“I think the one thing that stands out about the five freshmen, genetically, physically, they’re gifted,” Miller said. “There’s size, there’s strength, there’s athleticism. It’s a group that can come in and compete in college physically, which is always a good thing.”

The Recovery of De’Ron Davis

De’Ron Davis answers questions at IU Media Day. (Josh Eastern/HN)

When Davis tore his Achilles in an early-January practice, Indiana wasn’t sure when it’d be getting its 6-foot-10 junior forward back. Recovering from a torn achilles is arguably the hardest injury to return from, and its timetable can vary.

Based on what was said Wednesday, Davis is planning to be back for IU’s season opener with Chicago State on November 6th. He was not cleared to run until June and is just now participating in five-on-five, non-contact play.

“I feel pretty good,” Davis said. “I’m just trying to experience a little discomfort, but other than that, this process has been smooth. Really I’m just planning on being back by the first game. I don’t know how healthy I’ll be just yet. The timetable is still kind of weird looking. But I’m just trying to contribute to anything and everything I can.”

Davis is also participating in three-on-three, contact play as the Hoosiers begin official practices on Monday. In 15 games last season, Davis 9.6 points and 4.3 rebounds in 18.8 minutes per game. His presence is vital for an IU team in need of a consistent post presence.

“My role is just to continue to do what I’m doing, be dominant in the post,” Davis said. “I feel like I’m a great passer, so I can draw the double-team, kick it out. Romeo is a great shooter, offensive player, so he’s going to open the floor up a lot more, and J-Mo has actually expanded his game way to the three-point line, so he’s kind of a do-it-all player, so I feel like my role is not going to change at all really, just to become a better leader and grow in that area.”

Teddy Bailey

I am a senior from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, studying in IU’s School of Global and International Studies. Prior to joining The Hoosier Network, I spent two seasons covering IU Athletics for the Indianapolis Star alongside Zach Osterman after becoming the Sports Editor of the Indiana Daily Student as a freshman. While I found myself studying Italian in Florence this past summer, I interned with The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2017 — my hometown paper. In case you want to talk cheesesteaks or the Philadelphia 76ers, you can find me on Twitter, @ByTeddyBailey.

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