IU redshirt junior guard Johnny Jager has never tallied a single point in his three years with the Hoosiers. Over that time, he has appeared in seven games for a combined minutes count of 11.
But for the Bloomington native, donning the candy stripe warm-up pants and cream and crimson jersey is something special.
“It never gets old,” Jager said of putting on an IU uniform. “It just gives you chills. There’s nothing you can say that sums it up for a Bloomington kid, but it’s definitely been a dream.”
Jager is now in his third season with the Hoosiers after transferring from Wabash College. And though his minutes are often limited to mop-up duty, his presence is felt far beyond the hardwood.
Before suiting up for the Hoosiers or Little Giants, Jager flexed his talents at Bloomington High School South. Throughout a prolific prep career, the 6-foot, 185-pound guard earned First Team Academic All-State honors and Herald-Times Area Player of the Year honors as a senior.
“Hard-working kid you can count on to be there and 100 percent every day,” Bloomington South head coach J.R. Holmes said of Jager.
With in-state schools like Taylor, Depauw and Hanover fresh on his tail, Jager committed to Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, to continue his basketball journey.
Jager thrived as a freshman starter for the Little Giants. In 26 games, he averaged 15.5 points, 5.5 assists and 2.4 rebounds per game.
Coaches and players alike respected Jager’s work ethic. Described as a “gym rat” by Wabash head coach Kyle Brumett, Jager was his staff’s first prized signee.
“He was our first big recruit,” Brumett said of Jager. “I had just taken the job, and his competitiveness and love for basketball, competing, it was exactly what we were looking for to build the identity of the program as I started here.”
Despite the successful freshman campaign, a single meeting would change the trajectory of Jager's career.
At the time, he'd been acquainted with then-IU head coach Tom Crean as his siblings were friends with Crean’s children. Initially, Jager reached out in hopes of discussing coaching and the pathway to becoming a Division I head coach.
Chatting in Crean’s office in Cook Hall, he and Jager discussed the brotherhood of the coaching community and how networking factors into the job. Then, Crean turned the subject to the young guard.
“He was like, ‘Well we have an extra walk-on spot. If you want it, it’s yours. You can get the ins and outs of everything that goes on in a Division I program,’” Jager said. “So I just had to take that opportunity. It’s impossible not to.”
In an Instagram post from July 12, 2016, Jager announced his future plans. The image was a simple red, block “IU.” The caption read, “Blessed and thankful for Coach Crean and the opportunity to pursue a career in coaching and a lifelong dream of becoming a Hoosier as I intend on transferring to Indiana University and walking on as a member of the basketball team.”
“It was definitely tough,” Jager said transerring from Wabash. “But I think even those people knew this opportunity was one of those you couldn’t pass up.”
Bloomington’s prodigal son was headed home.
The first time Jager officially donned an IU jersey was at Hoosier Hysteria 2016. Rocking the familiar top he’d worn replicas of his entire childhood, the Bloomington native’s moment had arrived.
“I’ve been coming to Hoosier Hysteria since I was probably in kindergarten, when it was Midnight Madness,” Jager said. “So just watching it for so many years and then being able to walk out there and actually hear your name called — it gives you cold chills.”
Jager quipped that while walking onto the court at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall for the first time as a player he blacked out momentarily. Surrounded by thousands of Hoosier faithful, with flames bursting to his sides upon exiting the tunnel, he was then and forever an IU basketball player.
Upon his homecoming, Jager was hot off a freshman campaign that netted him an All-North Coast Athletic Conference honorable mention. But during his transfer season, he began the transition to major college basketball.
“Going from Division III to Division I is huge,” Jager said. “I think my high school experience was even a little more intense than my Division III experience. But at Indiana it’s huge. Indiana is basketball.”
In all reality, Jager’s move back home was less about his playing career than it was his post-basketball life. Entering college he had wanted to be a dentist. But, as seen with many college freshmen, his passion shifted.
Jager’s hope is to finish his Sports Marketing and Management degree this spring before latching on somewhere as a graduate assistant. Of course, he said his first preference would be to stay home.
“It’s been eye opening, it’s been a dream and it’s just been an experience I’ll never forget,” Jager said.
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