Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell might have commanded a squad of collegiate all-stars, played against teams from around the globe and proudly worn “USA” on his chest, but something else from his recent trip to Russia might stand out most of all.
The Kremlin smelled funny.
“I know I will never forget it,” the rising sophomore guard said.
This summer, while former teammates of Ferrell and rising senior forward Will Sheehey were embarking on professional careers and future teammates were back in Bloomington familiarizing themselves with Cook Hall, the pair traveled to Kazan, Russia, as part of Team USA at the World University Games earlier in July.
“It was a great honor to represent my country,” Ferrell said. “When I put that jersey on, I got chills. I felt like I was representing everyone back home.”
Living in an athlete village Sheehey compared in size to IU’s entire campus, the pair was in the presence of athletes from 136 different countries. Sheehey said the opportunity to immerse himself in other cultures stood out more than any on-court moment.
An admitted adventurous eater, Sheehey said he gained a reputation among teammates as the man willing to try any of the unfamiliar delicacies at least once.
But ultimately the two Hoosiers were there to play basketball, even if they found it to be a different strain than the college game.
“It’s difficult to explain, but the game of basketball is completely different over there, the way everyone moves, the way screens are set,” Sheehey said. “When you are playing in the Big Ten, you kind of know when a screen is going to come and where it is going to come from, but overseas they set screens in the middle of the lane. You have guys running out of bounds. It’s wild.”
Couple that with international officiating that is much more strict on travel calls, and the Americans found themselves facing a steep learning curve. Ferrell went so far as to blame one of Team USA’s losses on the rule, while Sheehey professed a preference for the American style of play.
“You can’t use your hands at all, but you can use your chest and body the heck out of a guy, so that was the kind of stuff we had to get used to,” Sheehey said. “The big guys really struggled throughout the whole thing trying to learn to not use their hands. Traveling calls were an absolute disaster, but we got used to it after a while. The travels were called really tight.”
A pair of upset losses to Canada and Australia kept Team USA from medaling, though Sheehey said he thought the team played its best ball once they were out of medal contention.
In its six wins, Team USA won by at least 18 points each time and by as
many as 94.
“It’s very tough to lose a game representing your country,” Ferrell said. “Even over there, everyone still showed us a lot of love, even the fans. We had a lot of fans come out to our games. But the players on the other teams hated us. It got real chippy sometimes.”
Not only did Ferrell and Sheehey find themselves among teams from across the world, but they also found themselves making friends with their new teammates on Team USA, an array of players they were more used to playing against, such as Michigan State’s Adreian Payne.
Ferrell and Sheehey were roommates with Louisville’s Luke Hancock and Colorado point guard Spencer Dinwiddie.
Coached by Davidson’s Bob McKillop with Michigan’s John Beilein and South Carolina’s Frank Martin as assistants, the team was determined only weeks earlier at a training camp in Colorado Springs, Colo., the 12-man squad emerging from 26 players invited to the camp.
“We were both excited to make the team,” Sheehey said. “Yogi was playing absolutely fantastic in Colorado so I knew he was a lock and it was more me that was on the fence. For us both to get our names called and to play there was a great experience for us.”
While Team USA was still new as a team by the Games’ beginning, other countries boasted teams with years of playing experience together. Ferrell admitted that put the Americans at a disadvantage.
“You have to pay much more attention to detail because those teams have been playing together for so long and they run their sets to a ‘T,’” Ferrell said.
Both players said they eventually found their niche on the team, though, Ferrell as one of the primary point guards along with Dinwiddie and Sheehey as a specialist at moving without the ball to set up scoring opportunities.
With the Games concluded, Ferrell and Sheehey are now back in Bloomington with their teammates for the upcoming season. Though they had spent some time with the six-player incoming freshman class before leaving for Colorado, the two probable captains said they sense a change for the better occurred while they were overseas.
“The guys who have been here throughout the summer and who have developed as leaders on this team are going to keep doing so because it’s best for our team to have a group of leaders than just one or two,” Sheehey said. “It’s really exciting to come back and see other guys do the things that I would want them to do.
“The strides that the freshmen have made throughout just six weeks has been absolutely incredible. You can tell by their work ethic that they are starting to change. Every guy coming out of high school doesn’t really know exactly what it’s like. To see them embrace the work that needs to be put in and for them to see results is really good.”
They are not the only ones. Partly as a result of his Russian excursion, Sheehey said he sees a change in his own game as well.
“I think mentally I’ve become a better player over the summer,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot this offseason, not just through my Team USA experience but also here at school being the oldest guy. My freshman and sophomore year, I was so scared of the older guys all I wanted was to play hard and show them that I could do that. Now that I’m older, I can sit down and really analyze the game. I think mentally I’ve learned a lot.”