Hoosier Hysteria features spotlight on bigs


Junior Troy Williams dunks during Hoosier Hysteria on Saturday evening at Assembly Hall. Williams won both the 3-point and dunk contest. Haley Ward and Haley Ward Buy Photos

IU fans chanted Thomas Bryant’s name the last time IU’s freshman center entered a packed Assembly Hall, when the then-uncommitted prep school recruit visited campus for a game against Michigan State last season.

Bryant made his Assembly Hall debut — as a player — Saturday night, and he scored a team-high of 13 points in the Cream team’s 35-28 victory against the Crimson. He ran the floor hard, displayed offensive versatility in the paint and contested shots out to the 3-point line.

Hoosier Hysteria marked his seventh time practicing in a live setting since IU opened practice Oct. 2, IU Coach Tom Crean said. He suffered a sore arch in his foot, as well as strep throat, which caused the IU coaching staff to take precautionary measures with his health.

“It was a little frustrating, you know, but everything happens for a reason,” Bryant said of his early-season ailments. “That’s what I took it as. Just come back better and stronger.”

After Bryant’s team won the scrimmage, he met Crean at halfcourt to get defensive pointers. He got into a defensive stance as his coach gave him advice.

“He is a very willing learner,” Crean said. “He’s a sponge. He wants to get better, he’s not afraid to ask questions. He has come in with a tremendous humility, and you combine that with the upside he has, and the energy he has and the fact that he’s a few months into being 18 years of age. He’s got a great future.”

Bryant’s personality and flair rivaled his on-court play, Crean said.

“He’s got a great personality,” Crean said, laughing. “I think everybody saw that.”

During player introductions, Bryant ran onto Branch McCracken Court while “Jump On It” echoed through the loudspeakers. Standing alone on the IU logo, he danced in a circle with more than 10,000 pairs of eyes fixated on him.

Bryant’s father and teammates suggested songs to him, but he ultimately chose “Jump On It.”

“That’s funny, it’s hyped up, a little goofy,” he said. “I thought that would be good to come out to.”

The 6-foot-10 center said he hopes to translate his energy to his play on the court and to the locker room.

“It can bring a lot to the team, having that passion, that drive that I always have,” Bryant said. “Even when we are in droughts of not making shots or we miss a couple defensive possessions, you always got to keep that positive attitude out there and that brings a team a long way.”

Junior forward Troy Williams became the first player to ever win both the 3-point shooting contest and dunk contest. The junior forward made 14 of 24 3-pointers in the first round, putting him in a three-way tie for first place with senior guards Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell and Nick Zeisloft.

The trio of teammates tied in the final round of the men’s competition. Tyra Buss, a sophomore guard on the IU women’s team who won the female 3-point contest, had the option of facing any of the three men’s players in the championship round.

She picked Williams, who caught fire and scored 18 points to secure the victory.

The junior then landed a 360-degree tomahawk, a baseline between-the-legs dunk and a reverse double-clutch slam to win the dunk contest over freshman Juwan Morgan.

Williams has always been a human highlight reel with his dunking ability, but his 3-point shooting prowess — while displayed in a contest without defenders — hinted at a new and improved version of the junior wing.

“Did you see him shoot last year?” Crean asked rhetorically when asked about Williams’ outside shooting. “It’s a big improvement. He’s worked very hard at it. But it’s important that it’s a weapon not a necessity.”

Opponents could sag off of Williams defensively last season when he was on the perimeter, Crean said. He was a threat when he cut to the basket, but he attempted just 13 3-pointers last season, making six of them. As a freshman, he shot just more than 20 percent from behind the arc.

By defeating Ferrell and Zeisloft, who made a combined 145 3-pointers at better than a 40-percent clip last season, Williams proved he may have developed another layer to his offensive portfolio.

“Our whole key is you really can’t sag off of anybody as we get better and that’s where we have to have the team,” Crean said. “I think it’ll be very hard for people to do this year if he continues to work hard on it like he has.”

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