Yogi Ferrell is one of only two players in Big Ten history to score 1,800 points, record 600 assists and grab 400 rebounds.
The senior guard has the most assists in IU history and has started the most games. He’s second in made 3-pointers and seventh in all-time scoring.
But he’s not done. He still has his senior night against Maryland on Sunday, the Big Ten Tournament, and perhaps most importantly, the NCAA Tournament.
Because that’s what matters in Bloomington. Players aren’t remembered for how many points they score, they’re remembered for what they win. Ferrell has said this. Other former and current players have said this.
Calbert Cheaney said Ferrell’s already an all-time great. Ted Kitchel said he might have some work left to do. IU Coach Tom Crean wouldn’t specify where some of his accomplishments rank, or where Ferrell himself might rank, but he said one thing is certain.
“Here’s how I would sum up Yogi: He came in a champion, he helped us win a championship the first year, and now he’s got one as a senior,” Crean said. “I’d say that’s pretty remarkable. A lot of growth in between, a lot of great days and a lot of hard days, and I love him to death.”
Ferrell has perhaps already inserted himself into IU history. He may already be a permanent fixture in fans’ memories after leading IU to a win at Iowa that secured Ferrell’s second outright Big Ten Championship.
But it wasn’t just that. It was how he won.
On the road, after the Hawkeyes had stormed back, the Hoosiers had retaken the lead. IU forced a stop with less than a minute left and had the ball, up two points. Crean didn’t call timeout, letting Ferrell hold the ball for most of the possession.
He ran down the clock before stepping back behind the 3-point line and making what might be the biggest shot of his career.
“When he hit that shot toward the end at Iowa, that just shows what type of winner he is,” Cheaney said. “It takes all the courage in the world to take that shot, and I guarantee he knew he was going to make it. That’s what makes champions, and he’s always been a champion.”
Cheaney is among the IU greats. He played at IU from 1989-93 and has the most points in IU history. He’s also in the top five in terms of games started and total field goals and was a three-time All-American.
He’s also a two-time Big Ten champion, like Ferrell. Both are part of a group of five players who have two Big Ten titles and rank in the top 10 in IU history for scoring.
Cheaney has also hit his share of big shots near the end of games, much like Ferrell did late Tuesday night at Iowa.
There have been a few times Ferrell has taken and missed the shot. A runner in the lane earlier this year in an overtime loss at Wisconsin. A potential game-tying free throw in the last game of the season last year against Michigan State. There was also the 3-pointer in the final minute against Purdue last season that could have given IU the lead.
But those don’t matter, Cheaney said. What mattered is Ferrell kept shooting the big shot.
“I’ve never thought one second, personally, that he’s a guy who can’t hit that clutch shot,” Cheaney said. “Whether he hits it or not, he has the courage to take it and that’s what makes a player. That’s what makes a competitor.”
For Cheaney, that shot cemented Ferrell’s legacy among the IU greats. That 3-pointer added on to the fact he has the most assists in IU history. It’s a superlative to him starting every game at point guard for a team ranked No. 1 for most of the season his freshman year.
But most importantly, that 3-pointer gave Ferrell his second Big Ten championship in four years. You add that with everything else, Cheaney said, there’s no doubt where he stands in IU history.
“Whether they win a national championship or they don’t, the fact is his body of work is what counts,” Cheaney said. “What he’s done in terms of being a winner, being a leader, being a competitor, being all those things, that in itself makes him one of the IU greats.”
Ferrell was getting yelled at during what might be the lowest point of his senior season.
The Hoosiers were in Maui, Hawaii, and they were struggling. On their way to a second loss in the three-game invitational, freshman center Thomas Bryant erupted. He had just made a mistake, and going into a timeout, Ferrell tried to make this a teaching moment.
Bryant responded by pressing his face against Ferrell’s and unloading a verbal assault on the senior. Ferrell never yelled back. He waited for Bryant to calm down and then got his message across.
Now, Bryant is one of the top freshmen and big men in the country. He’s also learned to control himself, something he has attributed to Ferrell’s leadership countless times this season.
It’s this same leadership Crean has pointed to for the season’s turnaround. It’s what his teammates have said keep them going. It’s what Cheaney and Kitchel point to when explaining why Ferrell is a special player.
“He’s always been a winner and what he’s done this year — he’s basically willed his team to victory,” Cheaney said. “He’s done a wonderful job in terms of facilitating and just being an unbelievable leader.”
There’s the obvious part of leadership. The part where you see the experienced player teaching the younger player. Ferrell has done that, not just for Bryant, but for all his teammates.
But there’s also the less obvious part of leadership. The part Ferrell might exemplify even more than his teaching moments. More than anything else, Ferrell just hates losing.
When he decided to come back for his senior season, he said it was to win a championship. Now, however improbable it might have been a few months ago, the Hoosiers are considered a contender.
During the times where this looked unrealistic, it was Ferrell leading his team. The same could even be said during this recent run of success.
“Everybody talks about how average teams and good teams are coach-driven,” Cheaney said. “Great teams are player-driven and he’s one of those guys that drives his team.”
That’s the biggest difference from when he played his first game at Assembly Hall to when he will play his last Sunday.
His freshman season was his first Big Ten title. He had the help of future NBA players Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo. There were also 1,000-point scorers Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford and Will Sheehey. Ferrell still started every game that season, just like every other game of his career, but he didn’t need to lead.
Once those players left, he did. So while Ferrell experienced natural improvement his next three years in Bloomington, and has improved past that thanks to a work ethic Crean can’t stop referencing, his biggest improvement was what he can do outside himself.
“Not only has he grown in his game, but he’s helped other players grow,” Kitchel said. “He maybe has even a better overall group around than he had as a freshman.”
Kitchel knows who’s the best point guard in IU history. There’s no second thoughts, and he’ll mention him unprompted.
He played with Isaiah Thomas, who without any doubt is the best point guard not only to come through Bloomington, Kitchel said, but possibly to ever play the game of basketball.
He said Thomas could score 40 points whenever he wanted to, but that’s not what fans remember Thomas for.
“When he got to the NBA, people got a glimpse of maybe the greatest point guard of all time,” Kitchel said. “But the things you remember about Isaiah Thomas was that he was here two years, we won two Big Ten titles and we won a national championship in 1981.”
He also brought up Quinn Buckner, who Ferrell passed on his way to setting the all-time assist mark. When you say Buckner’s name people think of the back-to-back perfect regular seasons and the national championship in 1976.
So in Kitchel’s mind, Ferrell still has some work to do. He’s a great player, and Kitchel credits Ferrell with rebuilding a fan base fractured from Bob Knight’s sudden departure, followed by the Mike Davis and Kelvin Sampson eras.
Ferrell still has work to do, because IU fans remember championships over everything.
“That’s the reason you’re playing, is to win championships and that’s what you’re remembered for, especially in the state of Indiana,” Kitchel said. “It’s been almost 40 years and people still remember that I played on the 1981 national championship team.”
Kitchel said something else about Ferrell. Kitchel said Ferrell’s a winner, and winners win championships. He’s won two Big Ten titles, and against Iowa, Ferrell played like a winner.
Kitchel said as he was watching Tuesday night, he watched Ferrell seemingly tell his team he was going to win that game, and along with it, a Big Ten championship.
He brought up Thomas again, and Magic Johnson, who won a national championship as a point guard at Michigan State before winning with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Kitchel was talking about the best point guards in history and how they always seemed to win. That’s not a coincidence.
“The championships kind of follow those guys around,” Kitchel said. “That tells you how great they are. Wherever they play, they win championships, and people will say they’ve played on great teams but they’ve made the teams great.”