An electronic dribbling machine sits off to the side of the IU women’s basketball practice court in Cook Hall.
“The Lazer,” as it’s called, puts a user through various dribbling drills. It’s a couple feet tall and has a display screen that flashes dribbling patterns for the user to match in sync. Some of the workouts require the dribbler to bounce multiple balls at once, and some of them use tennis balls, but all the exercises help improve hand-eye coordination.
On any given day, when IU Coach Teri Moren wanders Cook Hall and her players are scattered about – the Hoosiers are not yet officially practicing as a team – she knows she’s likely to see sophomore guard Ali Patberg at "The Lazer."
“We’ve had our kids on it a lot, but Ali Patberg has literally worn the crap out of it," Moren said. "She’s been on there so often. But that’s what it takes, and she knows that.”
Patberg is one of two transfer students who joined the IU team this offseason, along with junior forward Brenna Wise.
Two years ago, Patberg was a 2015 McDonald’s All-American in high school at Columbus North in Columbus, Indiana. But after missing her first year of college basketball with a torn ACL and playing just 7.7 minutes per game last season, Patberg left the Notre Dame program and came to play for Moren at IU.
Transfer rules will prevent Patberg and Wise, who transferred to IU from Pittsburgh after leading the Panthers in scoring in each of her first two college seasons, from helping the Hoosiers in 2017-18. But they could be the two most important players on the current roster.
IU will be led by a pair of seniors – guard Tyra Buss and forward Amanda Cahill – in 2017-18. The two have started all 98 games in their three seasons at IU, and they already rank eighth and 15th, respectively, among the Hoosiers’ career-leading scorers.
Buss and Cahill will have to carry an even larger load this year for a young team with just four returners and five freshmen. When they’re gone, the team will only get younger. That’s where Patberg and Wise can step in as a guard-forward combo, similar to the Buss and Cahill tandem that's been so lethal on the court over the last three seasons.
“We're just really fortunate that we feel comfortable when we lose (Cahill) and Tyra to graduation that we have two kids that are going to be able to just kind of move into those two spots,” Moren said.
The on-court production from Buss and Cahill won’t be easy to replace, but having a former All-American step in to replace Buss and a forward with career averages of 12.5 points and seven rebounds per game to supplant Cahill is plenty enough for Moren.
Moren also isn’t concerned about losing the leadership that Buss and Cahill have provided. The coach said her new transfers, who will each have two seasons of eligibility remaining after they sit this season, have built relationships with their teammates faster than anyone she’s ever seen.
“They’re super mature," Moren said. "They have great air of confidence about them. They are terrific teammates.”
In the lead up to IU’s trip to Italy last month, the team was able to have a little more than a week’s worth of official practices. Buss said those went a long way in building rapport, not only between her and the Hoosiers’ five-member freshman class, but also with the new transfers.
“It’s nice that we got to be on the court together and have those 10 full team practices,” Buss said.
This summer was a time for the seven new faces on IU’s team to build a foundation for their introduction to the program. When official practices begin in early October, Patberg and Wise can begin their full season of perfecting the IU system.
If they continue to work as hard as Moren has seen so far, she said she knows they’ll be more than ready to take over as leaders next year.
“I’m not sure that we’re going to find two young ladies that work like they do,” Moren said. “Just hoping that some of that will wear off on some of our freshmen, that they see how the two of them go about their work.”