Before the long days of practice began, or continued, for members of the IU men’s basketball team, there were flames.
Projected onto the court at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall and accompanied by music and other visual images from IU basketball history, the flames were only part of the pre-Hoosier Hysteria histrionics that took place last Saturday afternoon.
While the show dazzled the crowd of about 12,000 fans, it quickly gave way to player introductions. As the latest edition of the IU men’s basketball team was announced to the crowd, the discussions naturally began about who will see playing time during Coach Archie Miller’s second season in Bloomington.
At least for this season, those discussions could go on for a while.
“We have an exciting group to work with,” Miller said during his address to the Hoosier Hysteria crowd. “I think you’ll enjoy watching them grow together.”
There is senior leadership set to be provided by forwards Juwan Morgan and Zach McRoberts, recently named team captains for the upcoming season. At the other end of the experience spectrum is the crop of promising IU freshmen led by guard Romeo Langford.
In between, IU’s sophomores and juniors will try to carve out a role for themselves as they prepare for year two in Miller’s system.
Sophomore guard Al Durham is one of those players. As a freshman, he started nine of his 31 game appearances for the Hoosiers, averaging a little less than 20 minutes and five points per contest.
Of those who attempted at least 49 3-pointers for IU last season, Durham had the second-worst success rate at making them.
As such, Durham said he spent the summer getting more consistent with his 3-point shot, as well as expanding his overall game. This means improving his ball distribution to teammates considering Durham averaged just 1.25 assists per game last season.
Durham said this will also translate to IU’s defensive play, where the Hoosiers’ depth can also be used as an asset.
Sophomore forward Justin Smith was utilized in a similar way to Durham, making nine starts and 31 total appearances last season, but in a distinctly different role as one of IU’s most efficient rebounders.
Smith, along with Durham and junior guard Devonte Green, was singled out by Morgan during IU’s media day on Sept. 26 as a returning player who has impressed with his offseason development.
Miller also praised Smith during media day, saying he could score between four to five more points this season compared to last season, when he averaged 6.5 points per game.
“Biggest thing for Justin in my mind is to obviously use that great talent and athleticism to get points on the board,” Miller said. “So many times last year, you saw that explosive jump, but you didn’t put the points on the board.”
Much of the expectations placed on Smith for this season will be based on how often Miller deploys IU’s smaller lineup and whether Smith fits into it as a forward or center. Additionally, the health of junior forward De’Ron Davis will dictate Smith’s usage.
Davis is one of three players on the IU roster listed at 6’10”, along with sophomore forward Clifton Moore and graduate forward Evan Fitzner.
In early January, Davis’ 2017-18 season came to an end after he tore his Achilles tendon in his right leg during practice. He’s continued his offseason rehab and said at media day he’s “just planning on being back by the first game.”
“I don’t know how healthy I’ll be just yet,” Davis said. “The timetable is still kind of weird looking.”
Despite the emergence of Morgan and Smith last season at forward, Davis said his role will continue to be the same and require him to be “dominant in the post.”
“I feel like I’m a great passer, so I can draw the double-team, kick it out,” Davis said. “I feel like my role is not going to change at all really, just to become a better leader and grow in that area.”
The days leading up to IU’s Nov. 6 season opener against Chicago State will feature much discussion about how Miller will use his players this season.
Possibilities exist for both IU’s senior leadership to guide the Hoosiers in the early part of the season, or for freshmen to be given a trial by fire once again on the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall court.
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