ROSEMONT, Ill. – A four-hour car ride, a hotel and suits – lots of suits.
That was the scene Thursday in the Hyatt Regency O’Hare in the suburbs of Chicago at Big Ten Media Day as representatives from all 14 teams converged for the annual preseason gathering.
IU Coach Archie Miller and senior forwards Juwan Morgan and Zach McRoberts represented the Hoosiers at the event.
Though no shots, assists, rebounds or games of basketball occurred in Rosemont, Illinois, IU's representatives spoke to reporters and provided insight into what fans can expect from the Hoosiers.
Juwan Morgan and Romeo Langford will lead IU
The first news Thursday came around 9 a.m. with the announcement of the preseason All-Conference team. Freshman guard Romeo Langford and Morgan were included on the 10-player roster.
For IU fans, this came as no surprise. Langford, a McDonald’s All-American who ranks as the fourth-highest scorer in Indiana high school basketball history, is the most hyped Hoosier freshman in decades.
Boasting a senior scoring average of 35.5 points per game, his offensive acumen has already garnered him top-10 pick projections for next spring’s NBA Draft.
“Obviously I think Romeo Langford is one of the very first ones that comes to mind,” Ohio State head coach Chris Holtman said of conference newcomers this season. “Many people are aware of his talent, his ability, certainly what he's going to mean for Indiana. I think he is a part of a very gifted and talented Indiana team."
As for Morgan, he enters 2018 on the heels of a Second-Team All-Big Ten campaign in which he averaged 16.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.5 rebounds per contest.
“I think Juwan’s really stood out as being dominant,” Miller said. “He’s got to stay with what he’s doing in practice and really hasn’t changed as a guy who came last year every day. If he continues to be that every day guy, I think he’s seeing great results.”
On paper, Miller appears capable of playing as many as 14 players in a given night. But even with that kind of depth, opposing players and coaches will have nightmares preparing for what Langford and Morgan bring to the IU offense.
Freshman class ready to start season
Langford, the star of the 2018 recruiting class joins guard Rob Phinisee, forwards Jake Forester, Damezi Anderson and Jerome Hunter in rounding out the bunch.
Though this year’s freshmen – the highest rated group since 2013 – is set to play a major role in 2018, Miller is urging observers to be patient.
“All five guys have their strengths and obviously all five have their weaknesses right now,” Miller said. “Our staff is trying to help them speed up the improvement level of their weaknesses and continue to emphasize who they are, developing a role within our team.”
That said, Morgan, McRoberts and Miller sang the praises of IU's young team during the afternoon.
“I just think they’re more than meets the eye,” Morgan said. “I think that’s the best compliment I can give them because they’re all willing learners, they’re all ready to attack – none of them have taken a back seat.”
McRoberts echoed the same positive-culture vibes the young players bring and said their eagerness to learn is astounding.
“They’ve been great to be around,” McRoberts said. “They’re great guys and the best thing, I think, they’re willing to learn. They don’t think they have all the answers. They’re asking questions. They want to know more.”
As for Miller, he praised the character of the group, but said their lack of experience at the collegiate level has left his squad scrambling for cohesion ahead of IU's Nov. 6 opener against Chicago State at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
“The young guys are freshmen,” Miller said. “We have five guys out there. You can tell when we practice who is a freshman at times. I think that's without saying our staff's objective is to develop our team.”
Hoosiers begin practice with strong competition
To open his interview portion, Morgan referenced Wednesday’s practice in which he, Langford, forward Evan Fitzner, guard Devonte Green and forward Quentin Taylor matched up against McRoberts, guard Al Durham and forwards Clifton Moore, Justin Smith and Damezi Anderson.
Morgan alluded to the scrimmage as a demonstration of the competitive fire Miller has yearned for, with the threat of a sprinting punishment on the line for the loser.
“It was weird,” Morgan said. “Nobody was really scoring because everybody was just guarding as well as they could because the other team didn’t want to run.”
Miller has awarded a gold jersey at the conclusion of each week of IU practice. Morgan, this past week’s recipient, has inspired a renewed fight in the rest of the roster.
“Once I handed out that jersey it’s been a little different this week,” Miller said. “There’s some guys that want to take that thing off him. And that’s good. That’s why we do it.”
With the team mentality shifting, this competitiveness should show on the defensive end.
In Tom Crean’s final year as IU's head coach, IU ranked 163 in defensive efficiency. In Miller’s first year, the Hoosiers jumped to 140. These are not the numbers Miller would like, but improvement was made.
Given the addition of freshman Rob Phinisee, who Miller said is already a college-level defender, and the perceived improvement of Smith, IU stands to further improve its team defense rankings.
“I think the one thing that makes a coach feel good is when he leaves the practice gym everyday and he said, ‘These guys got after it today. They’re working,'" Miller said.
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