Editor’s note: This is the second of a multi-part series featuring stories on Indiana men’s basketball players.
Welcome to the year of the big.
From the University of Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe to the University of North Carolina’s Armando Bacot, there’s no question that the majority of college basketball’s best returning players are centers and power forwards.
Of course, Indiana basketball is no stranger to the All-American athlete. Senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis is arguably a top-five player entering the 2022-23 season amongst last year’s award-winners.
While Jackson-Davis will have the chance to square off against Bacot, Purdue’s Zach Edey and Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson, Jackson-Davis' biggest competition and source of betterment right now is his own teammate: Jordan Geronimo.
Geronimo, a junior, recorded the best stretch of his collegiate career during the 2022 NCAA Tournament. He exploded for a career-high 15 points with three put-back jams against the University of Wyoming, followed by a nine-point, six-rebound performance in Indiana’s loss to Saint Mary’s College of California.
He also had flashes of stardom over the beginning of his collegiate career, despite limited minutes. Geronimo dunked on Iowa’s then-Wooden Award winner Luka Garza in 2021 and attempted — but missed — a monster slam over former Illinois All-American Kofi Cockburn last year.
"I caught the ball, looked at the baseline and saw (Cockburn) there, and I said, ‘I’ve got to go for this one,’” Geronimo said. “I jumped up, and I almost got it. I’ve got to get that back, though. Somebody’s about to be on the receiving end of that.”
Geronimo’s fearlessness and ambition are only a fraction of his basketball pedigree. His height, strength, speed and explosiveness — what his teammates call “freak” athleticism — are what drive Geronimo in battle with Jackson-Davis daily.
With the combination of extraordinary natural talent and ample self-confidence, Geronimo is ready to go head-to-head with college basketball’s best.
Future foes Bacot, Dickinson and Edey are traditional centers, spending most of their time operating low in the paint and feasting off of spin moves and modified hooks. Geronimo’s style of play, on the other hand, involves shifty cuts and quick drives. In fact, he spent the offseason working on his handles, mid and long-range shooting and decision-making to increase his offensive versatility.
Geronimo said going up against the likes of Garza and Cockburn early in his career led him to further embrace his athleticism, an advantage he possesses over his colossal counterparts.
“My freshman year, I played a lot of the four,” Geronimo said. “I was able to use my athleticism to help me get around them, even though I’m 6’6” going up against seven-foot guys.”
Geronimo has also worked on expanding his defensive portfolio, stretching his abilities out of the paint up to the guard-dominated three-point line.
“In practice, sometimes I’m matching up with Jalen Hood-Schifino and (Xavier Johnson), so I take on that challenge of guarding the perimeter,” Geronimo said. “Each position has its tricks to it, so I have to work on getting over ball screens, knowing their tendencies, moving from the corner to the wing. I’m not saying it’s harder to guard the perimeter, but it’s just about knowing what to do in that situation.”
Despite his adaptability to play all over the court, not-so-sneaky athleticism and positional prowess, Geronimo knows where he belongs on a championship-level squad.
“Every team has role players — shooters, scorers and a defensive hustle guy,” Geronimo said. “Every team needs that kind of player to do the dirty work. I want to be the best at my role: play defense, rebound, bring energy.”
Geronimo said head coach Mike Woodson has given him even more confidence heading into the 2022-23 season, and he’s ready to take on both the highly-anticipated team and individual campaign.
“(Woodson) keeps me in that mindset to just keep working hard and keep doing what I’m doing,” Geronimo said. “Because when I’m on, I’m hard to stop.”