Forward Max Bielfeldt had never won a game at Assembly Hall during his career at Michigan. He knew from experience just how difficult it is to come in and play there.
But Sunday, standing on Branch McCracken Court in a building he couldn’t conquer wearing maize and blue, Bielfeldt ended his career undefeated in Assembly Hall as an IU player.
“I’ll tell you,” Bielfeldt said during his senior night speech Sunday. “It’s pretty fun to be a Hoosier.”
Bielfeldt is the guy who was nudged out going into his final year at Michigan and found a new home at IU.
In eight months in Bloomington, he transformed from a solid role player into one of the most valuable guys on the team.
IU Coach Tom Crean said IU brought Bielfeldt in because the team was in need of a leader and veteran. Bielfeldt provided just that.
Crean also said Bielfeldt needed a group of guys who believed in him and how he could improve. Bielfeldt was provided just that.
And as fans in Assembly Hall waited for the seniors to come out for their speeches, junior forward Troy Williams jumped on the microphone.
He said he knows Bielfeldt has won Big Ten titles as a member of the Wolverines and all that.
“But ours means the most,” Bielfeldt said.
A fan yelled that he needed no introduction. Tom Crean disagreed.
Crean wanted to talk about the guy he won two Big Ten titles with. He wanted to talk about the player that has gone from great talent to absolute superstar in their four years together.
He said he has spoke with people who consider this player to be one of the most underappreciated in all of college basketball. Crean doesn’t underappreciate him.
“I wouldn’t trade him for anyone in the country,” Crean said. “Kevin Yogi Ferrell.”
And on his big night, guard Yogi Ferrell did just what he has for four years at IU. He got the ball to everybody but still left as the star.
He worked his way to everyone during his speech. There were stories about arguing with teammates like Williams and freshman forward OG Anunoby but loving them anyway. He mentioned the time his mother texted him to get his butt back in the gym after an off shooting night. He thanked his coach in detail.
The best of the night may have been when he made his girlfriend, a cheerleader, come up and hug him. Ferrell spoke about how he loved her and oddly thanked her for all of the “late-night massages.”
And all joking aside, Ferrell made his way through just about everybody he could thank. Ferrell was a star recruit. He won a Big Ten title at both the start and end of his career and dealt with two years of drama in between. He thought this was the most fun, though.
Ferrell will go down as one of the greatest Hoosiers of all time. He has records for assists and games played. Now, he is a legend here in almost every sense.
“I’ve had a very fun four years, and I feel like if I could leave Indiana, I never would,” Ferrell said.”
“I’ll keep this short,” forward Ryan Burton said.
Burton wasn’t going to overdo anything. He didn’t play a ton at IU and wasn’t going to speak a ton Sunday night.
Burton didn’t even come to IU for basketball, so this was all just a bonus.
He played his first two seasons of basketball at Bellarmine and decided to transfer to IU, except it wasn’t to play basketball. Academics and going to the Kelley School of Business were his biggest priorities, he said.
He spent a year at IU as strictly a student and joined the program as a walk-on in the summer of 2014. During those two years, he averaged just over three minutes per game.
Sunday, Crean went out of his way to call a timeout with 14 seconds left despite an 18-point lead because he wanted to get Burton and senior forward Jackson Tharp on the floor. Teammates celebrated Burton and Tharp getting on the floor like they would a crucial play going into a timeout.
Burton might not have ever become some star player at IU, but his future is apparently bright.
“You’d be happy to hire him in your company one day,” Crean said. “Trust me.”
Trying to put this play into words won’t do it justice, but I’ll try.
Senior guard Nick Zeisloft chased a ball about to go into the corner by the Maryland bench. He grabbed it with one hand and, without even looking, heaved the ball as hard as he could across his body and backward.
Somehow, the ball went halfway down the court and hit freshman forward Juwan Morgan perfectly as he ran in transition and scored a fast-break layup.
Zeisloft is known to the masses for one thing — 3-point shooting. He has taken 279 3-pointers in two seasons and attempted only 32 from inside the arc.
When Crean considered bringing him in two years ago from Illinois State, the belief was that he was a pretty situational player.
“We were wrong,” Crean said. “He could do a lot more than one or two more things.”
And the aforementioned nonsensical play showed that as well. Zeisloft is the stoic Hoosier who gets on other players as much as anyone. He is one of the toughest players, Crean said.
During his speech Sunday, he told an anecdote about how angry Crean was after losing two of three games at the Maui Invitational back in November.
Crean asked if they play at Indiana or for Indiana. He said there were a lot of guys who only played at Indiana.
Now, the Hoosiers are Big Ten champs.
“I can honestly say every one of our players, coaches, staff, everybody plays for Indiana.”
Everybody wanted him to have a senior night moment. He knew better.
Team manager-turned-roster member forward Jackson Tharp got the ball at the 3-point line with nobody around him. IU was leading by 18 points and there were a few seconds left in the game.
The IU student section started screaming, “Shoot it.”
Tharp had played a total of four minutes on the floor since Crean added him to the roster Jan. 15.
In the senior video, the majority of the clips of Tharp were him sitting on the bench. He had never even taken a shot.
And as the crowd yelled for him to take that shot and have that senior moment, Tharp knew better.
He passed the ball back to freshman guard Harrison Niego.
Tharp is the senior who Crean asked to join the team because IU needed another body after sophomore guard James Blackmon Jr. went down. Three and a half years were spent making Gatorade and hauling luggage.
So Sunday, he made sure to give his fellow managers a shout out.
“They’re some of the hardest working people you’ll never know,” Tharp said.
In his speech, Tharp talked about how his father instilled three things to him: God, family and hard work. He said he believes this IU team possesses all three of those values.
And when it was all said and done, it was a player with the least time on the court who was making the most confident statement.
“We’re going to get another banner this year,” he said. “We’re not done.”