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IU men's basketball's freshmen bring balance, poise to Hoosiers


Freshman forward Justin Smith attempts a free throw against Marian on Oct. 28 in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Smith is one of three freshmen who committed to IU while the Hoosiers were coached by Tom Crean, but followed through with enrolling at IU after new Coach Archie Miller was appointed.  Bobby Goddin Buy Photos

When three of IU's current freshmen signed letters of intent to become Hoosiers last November, they were committing to play under then-Coach Tom Crean.

Crean spent months and years building relationships with these players, but what new IU Coach Archie Miller appreciates about Crean’s recruiting efforts is the way Crean sold prospective players on the school, not just himself. 

Though all three freshmen – guard Al Durham and forwards Justin Smith and Clifton Moore – reevaluated their commitments in the spring after Miller replaced Crean, they each stayed loyal to the Hoosiers.

“There was a purpose for them all going to IU,” Miller said. “It wasn't just a basketball decision or coaching staff decision. All three of them were really bought into the university, they got locked in to the tradition and the fan base, and they fell in love with it.”

Their purpose has taken on more meaning now that they’ll be the first class under Miller’s leadership. Senior forward Collin Hartman said all of IU’s players are essentially freshmen this year while learning Miller’s new system, but the 2017 recruiting class will be the one with the most time to develop.

With a ball-handling guard in Durham, a versatile wing in Smith and a big man in the six-foot, 10-inch Moore, the group has the balance to help the Hoosiers at all positions.

Miller said Durham projects as a point guard and should find minutes at the position this season, though he’s already injured his hamstring twice and didn’t play in the Hoosier Hysteria scrimmage or IU’s first exhibition game. 

Durham has two senior guards to lean on for advice in Robert Johnson and Josh Newkirk, but Johnson said the freshman is already advanced in his basketball intelligence. 

“One of the things I noticed with Al right away was he picked up things really quick,” Johnson said. “So I think from a standpoint of understanding the game and things like that, he's already far along.”

Smith, the highest-rated of IU’s newest batch of recruits, could have the biggest role among the freshmen this season as a forward who can push the ball and attack as a scorer. 

He said he’s worked most on improving his jumper this offseason and tweaked his form a bit. The effort that all three freshmen have made to improve their own games while also working to become better teammates has stood out to their coach. 

“They're very businesslike,” Miller said. “They care. They work very, very hard, and they're all learning the game in a fast way.”

Moore might be the one freshman with the most room for growth, alongside forward Race Thompson. Thompson was a class of 2018 recruit who reclassified to come to college a year early after committing to IU and Miller this summer. 

Thompson will redshirt this season, so Moore is the young player whose on-court development will be key to watch. Miller has already praised Moore’s pure talent level and conditioning, but Moore still has to work on grasping offensive and defensive concepts to earn playing time.

“In high school I had free range to do whatever I want, but with Archie's organized system, I just have to learn where to be in the right place and how to run it correctly,” Moore said.

Miller has already started forming a deep and talented recruiting class for 2018, with four commits already and more elite talent possibly set to join. But locking down Crean’s recruits from the 2017 class was equally as important as finding success in Miller’s own first go around at recruiting as IU’s coach.

Durham, Smith and Moore will be given the largest role in establishing the culture Miller wants to create at IU. They’re young and still developing on the court for now, but if they’re still around in three years they could be the seasoned veterans leading a squad full of players Miller handpicked.

“We had to recreate their vision on how we play and how they fit,” Miller said. “Very thankful that their families and the kids all joined us. I think they're all going to be a big part of the future as time goes.”

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