Despite having played a grand total of 124 minutes for IU, third-year forward Austin Etherington found himself the unlikely veteran among five Hoosiers assembled Tuesday at Assembly Hall.
With IU’s rash of player turnover — two early departures to the NBA, two transfers, and three seniors lost to graduation — since a season-ending loss to Syracuse, Etherington suddenly finds himself the second-longest-tenured scholarship player on a roster with more scholarship newcomers than returnees.
He trails only senior forward Will Sheehey in that regard, but with Sheehey’s obligations to Team USA in the World University Games, Etherington has been the elder statesman during much of the team’s offseason practice.
“We have seven new guys here, so it’s been a lot of work for everybody to come in, learn their roles and get better,” Etherington said. “We’re working out every morning and afternoon, so everyone is putting that work in and getting better.”
Sitting dead center among four teammates at a cramped table, Etherington was the clear ringleader as he fielded questions ranging from his impressions of the new freshmen — “very athletic” — to the health of his left knee.
If IU coaches had their druthers, Etherington surely would have played more than his 47 minutes last season, but a fractured patella suffered Dec. 8 against Central Connecticut State quashed those plans and ended his season.
The injury occurred soon enough in the season for Etherington to be eligible for a medical redshirt, making him a sophomore once again this coming season. Between that, Cody Zeller’s departure to the NBA and Remy Abell’s transfer to Xavier, IU will have no scholarship juniors this season.
The forward said he is not back to full strength yet, but is participating in most drills. The last step will be 5-on-5 scrimmages, which Etherington hopes to participate in once players return from a short break in the coming weeks.
Etherington said he dealt with a knee injury before in high school and can now draw on that experience in his current recovery.
“The big thing is just the mindset and being able to go out there and not worry about your knee,” he said. “That’s something I have been better with. The first time I took a charge in workouts it was the first step because I knew I could do it again and not worry about my knee ... The physical part with my knee and my strength is coming on pretty well.”
Gordon adjusts to third college team
While Sheehey may be the team’s longest-tenured player, he is not the squad’s sole senior.
Along with the team’s six freshmen, senior guard Evan Gordon has also been a newcomer in offseason practices this summer after transferring from Arizona State.
“These guys are a totally different group than I have ever experienced,” Gordon said. “There are no egos on this team, and I am able to just come in and everyone sometimes is looking for advice and sometime I can take advice from the older guys like Yogi, Austin, Will and Jeremy. We go back and forth and bounce ideas off of each other.”
Gordon, now at his third school after beginning his career at Liberty, brings a familiar last name to Hoosier fans. His older brother, Eric, played a single season at IU in 2007-08 before jumping to the NBA. A third brother, Eron, is an IU recruiting target in the 2016 class. All three suited up for North Central High School in Indianapolis.
“I’ve been to two different institutions, but me being here at home, I can go home,” Gordon said. “And the expectations in the weight room are a lot different than I ever expected.”
Gordon averaged 10.1 points per game last season for the Sun Devils and 14.4 as a freshman for the Flames.
Vonleh adds 20 pounds since May arrival
The other newcomer making his debut to IU media was freshman forward Noah Vonleh, the jewel of IU’s incoming freshmen class.
“He is a real good player,” sophomore forward Jeremy Hollowell said. “The biggest thing that I have seen is that he is willing to learn, always willing to improve his game, he is very coachable and works hard day in and day out. He is always going to go hard and give you his best.”
Already an imposing figure listed at 242 pounds and a shade under 6-feet-10-inches at the Nike Hoops Summit, Vonleh said he has quickly taken to the strength training programs at IU and added roughly 20 pounds since arriving in May.
“I think it has helped me a lot,” Vonleh said. “I can bump guys off better and I can finish stronger.”
While Gordon noted he is much older than most of his teammates, Vonleh is in an opposite situation. Still more than a month short of his 18th birthday, he vowed not to let his youth prevent him from being a physical presence.
“I just like to be in the gym all the time getting better,” he said. “I’m going to be playing against a lot of guys who are a lot older than me next year, so I need to get physically ready, mentally ready and just keep getting better.”
Sophomores expect larger role in post play
Vonleh is just one of several players likely to be called on to replace the production of players such as Zeller, Derek Elston and Christian Watford down low.
Joining him in that endeavor will be sophomore forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea. An early-season suspension largely kept him from establishing a true niche in the rotation last season, but the Colombia native said he nonetheless feels the pressure this year to be not only a contributor, but a leader as well.
“We have a huge responsibility because I know how Cody and Derek took care of us last year,” he said. “So I feel like I have to step up with the new guys like Noah and Luke (Fischer) because they are going to be doing the same thing we had been doing. It’s a huge responsibility.”
As such, Mosquera-Perea said the off-season workouts have paid noticeable dividends for him, particularly in his shooting and timing.
“I feel that I have made a lot of improvements,” he said. “I’ve been working out with the coaches, doing new things, because I’m going to have to step up and do a lot of new things for our team this year. So I’ve been working really hard and getting a lot better.”
In a pinch last season, Hollowell was sometimes pressed into undersized post duty himself, and he said he has continued to refine those skills even with an eye on a more well-rounded role this season.
“I need to push myself to get better with my ball handling, get better with my shot, and post moves,” Hollowell said. “I feel like I have the ball in my hands a lot more and looking to score and rebound, and be an offensive factor for us to score points.”
Student season tickets reduced to 8 games
Information on the IU ticket website recently showed that student season ticket holders will now only receive tickets to eight games instead of 16 and the price for the basketball/football season ticket package has dropped from $320 to $200.
The change in price reflects the loss in games, as each game is $15.
Sources within IU Athletics said roughly 14,500 student season tickets have been sold thus far.
Students who purchased the $320 plan will have the cost reduced to $200 on their bursar bill.