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Vonleh shows NBA potential, improvement


By Andy Wittry



Following IU’s 61-56 victory against Northwestern on Saturday in Evanston, Ill., Northwestern Coach Chris Collins brought up a topic that has been in the back of Hoosier fans’ minds all season — freshman forward Noah Vonleh’s stock for the 2014 NBA Draft.

“I’m looking out on the floor and they got a guy who’s going to be a top 10 pick in this year’s draft,” Collins said of Vonleh, calling him a “monster.”

Vonleh has been on the NBA’s radar ever since he started the season with four consecutive double-doubles.

With a 6-foot-10, 240-pound frame and 7-foot-4 wingspan, Vonleh has been an elite rebounder since arriving on campus last summer.

He grabs 27.5 percent of available defensive rebounds — the 10th-best mark in the country — when he is on the court, according to
kenpom.com.

The freshman leads the Big Ten in rebounds per game with 9.3, well ahead of Michigan State’s Adreian Payne, who sits in second place with 7.7 per game.

Apart from his work on the glass, Vonleh has elevated his offensive game in Big Ten play.

IU Coach Tom Crean said Vonleh showed outstanding aggression in IU’s 69-58 loss Tuesday at Wisconsin.

“He’s getting better constantly,” Crean said.

The freshman’s most notable improvements are in his 3-point shot and driving ability.

“He’s getting more comfortable away from the basket with the ball not just with shooting the ball,” Crean said.

Vonleh merged his low-post scoring with his jump shot by becoming better at dribbling. During Tuesday’s loss against Wisconsin, Vonleh orchestrated the Hoosiers’ offense on several possessions at the top of the key.

In one offensive set, he was alone at the 3-point line. Senior forward Will Sheehey, junior forward Austin Etherington and graduate student guard Evan Gordon were on the left wing, drawing their defenders away from the lane. Sophomore point guard Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell was in the opposite corner.

Wisconsin forward Frank Kaminsky was defending Vonleh and forced the freshman to dribble right by angling his body in that direction.

Vonleh dribbled with his right hand, planted his right foot at the right elbow and utilized a spin move to get to the rim for an easy layup.

“The game he had tonight was the driving game,” Crean said after the loss. “He’s getting better with not wasting dribbles. Cody (Zeller) went through the same thing.”

IU’s sixth-year head coach said the Hoosiers emphasize constant improvement, even in walkthroughs on gameday.

“We’re working on our driving game, splitting traps, working on getting to the rim, all the different things that go into making you a better ball-handler,” Crean said.

Vonleh said the team has been focusing on its ball handling every day in practice with various cone drills.

“We’ve been working on ... keeping the dribble low, pushing it out, (and) just getting to the rim,” he said.

Crean said the next step for Vonleh is to master driving in a straight line to the basket. The Haverhill, Mass. native is bigger than most college players, which makes him difficult to defend.

“He just needs to push the ball out in front, drop his shoulder and go,” Crean said. “When you’re driving to the rim, it’s not about one-on-one play —  there’s not enough time.”

Vonleh’s improved dribbling and driving ability led to him taking double digit shot attempts in consecutive Big Ten games for the first time this season.

His new opportunities on offense have led to greater production from the freshman forward. In the past two games, he scored 30 points on 13-for-26 shooting.

Crean said once IU’s players are able to comfortably add dribbling moves to their repertoires, the Hoosiers try to implement them in games to use to their advantage.

“And that’s exactly what’s happened with Noah,” he said.

Follow reporter Andy Wittry on Twitter @AndyWittry

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