Jalen Hood-Schifino is growing up before our eyes.
The freshman guard’s talent was never in doubt: he was the 23rd ranked player in the class of 2022, Indiana men’s basketball’s highest rated recruit since Romeo Langford in 2018.
He arrived at Indiana and instantly landed in the starting lineup. He looked like a star in the Hoosiers’ exhibition games, but things started moving much quicker when the season began, and he struggled to find his footing.
Now, a little over halfway through his rookie campaign, Hood-Schifino is breaking out and Indiana is much better off for it.
“Jalen’s been solid, man,” head coach Mike Woodson said Thursday. “He’s running our ballclub and he’s doing a lot of good things for our team. It’s kind of nice to see.”
Against Illinois on Thursday, Hood-Schifino played all 20 minutes in the first half and scored 10 points, helping the Hoosiers to an 80-65 statement victory and turning plenty of heads with pro-level moves.
His performance came days after guiding Indiana to a win over Wisconsin, scoring 16 points and turning the ball over just twice to help Indiana snap a three-game losing streak.
“He's a little ahead of the game,” Woodson said after the Wisconsin victory. “He's not your typical freshman. He plays like he's been in college a few years.”
It didn’t come so easy at the start of his career.
His struggles were induced by poor shooting, including an 0-for-5 day from beyond the arc in his second career outing against Bethune-Cookman on Nov. 10. He was averaging just 7.8 points per game through Nov. 25, amid Indiana’s weakest stretch of competition. Hood-Schifino struggled mightily against Xavier University, Indiana’s first challenge, scoring just 3 points on 1-for-9 shooting, and looked out of his depth, making way for senior guard Xavier Johnson to take control as the experienced floor general.
Then the University of North Carolina came to town. Hood-Schifino, with his hair up for the first time, broke out with unflappable shooting and facilitation. After looking like a freshman for much of the season’s beginnings, Hood-Schifino unfurled new conviction to help the Hoosiers to a major home win.
“I just came in confident, just shot my shot,” Hood-Schifino said after that game. “I feel like I was a spark. When I was hitting my shots, everyone else followed along, brought their energy, just built it up from there.”
Since the UNC game, and after missing three games with a back injury, Hood-Schifino has transformed and developed as a leader in the midst of Big Ten play — a daunting task for many freshmen, but a challenge he has been up for.
Over four straight games, beginning with 17 points against Elon on Dec. 20, Hood-Schifino set new career-highs in scoring. He scored 21 in a loss to Iowa on Jan. 5 and followed the performance up with 33 against Northwestern, when he nearly dragged the Hoosiers to a comeback victory. Since then, he’s averaging 18 points per game.
“A lot of it is just playing hard, man,” Woodson said after Indiana beat UNC. “You learn to teach young guys how to play hard. That's 90% of it. You figure the other 10% out through X's and O's and doing all the little things that help you win.”
His season averages are up: 13.2 points, 44% shooting from deep. He’s done it all amid a staggering increase in minutes played — starting against UNC, he’s averaged 33.8 minutes per game, an increase from the 27 minutes he averaged in the first six games. The increase in workload has been necessary since Johnson went down with an injury against the University of Kansas.
Hood-Schifino's far from having it all figured out. His court vision often leads to him forcing tough passes that don’t always work and he’s averaging over three turnovers per game, a number too high compared to his 4.5 assists per game. But early on, when the scoring wasn’t there, Hood-Schifino was finding other ways to make plays, whether through defense, rebounding or passing.
“It’s just the other things he does on the floor: he defends, he rebounds, he assists, he runs your ballclub,” Woodson said after Indiana’s win over Miami University, when Hood-Schifino contributed five boards and two assists on top of 12 points. “He’s a freshman; I’m not concerned about the shot making. Jalen will be there when it counts. He’s capable of making big shots.”
Hood-Schifino has found his place within Indiana’s front court, filling a massive hole left by Johnson’s absence. As Indiana takes on Michigan State at noon Sunday in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, Hood-Schifino's growth will prove vital, especially as the Hoosiers work back toward .500 in the Big Ten.
Follow reporters Evan Gerike (@EvanGerike) and Emma Pawlitz (@emmapawlitz) and columnist Bradley Hohulin (@BradleyHohulin) for updates throughout the Indiana men’s basketball season.