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BLOOMINGTON -- You bet Troy Williams watched the NBA draft.
He has the dream, you see, they all do, these heralded Indiana basketball freshmen. They came for many reasons, and a big one was hoping to develop so they could duplicate what Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller have done.
So the players gathered in the Cook Hall locker room on that late-June night as if poised for a Super Bowl viewing and got quite an early show when Oladipo and Zeller went in the first four picks.
But this was motivation no words could match. This was an example of what happens when hard work meets talent.
When coach Tom Crean and his staff talk about doing beyond what's expected, about putting in hours on their own to improve their games, players don't treat it as if they were being asked to pull their own wisdom teeth
“You hear about all the hard work and see how that work ethic helped them,” Williams says. “You want to do it yourself and be in their position, too, so one day you can follow in their footsteps. So you put extra time in the weight room, extra time in the gym putting up shots, honing your skills and fundamentals.”
Williams is a 6-foot-7, 206-pound small forward positioned to make instant impact. He has the talent you'd expect from a guy ranked in the top 70 by all the major national Internet recruiting services (Rivals.com had him the highest at No. 47; No. 10 at his position). He's bought into the work-extra culture started by the graduated Jordan Hulls and brought to its highest level with Oladipo and senior Will Sheehey.
He's also fully immersed in IU's player workouts, and has been since arriving from Virginia over the summer.
“The work ethic is different than high school,” he says. “The conditioning is tough. You find out you're not in shape like you thought you were.
“Everybody is a lot stronger, faster, quicker everything. I got stronger, quicker. You can see the improvement in my game.”
One of those who has seen it is assistant coach Tim Buckley: “Troy Williams is a spectacular athlete, but he's as good a passer as he is an athlete. It's neat to watch. When he's playing in 3-on-3 or 4-on-4 situations, he finds the open man and he sees things maybe a play ahead.
“Once he gets his rhythm down with his shooting, that will improve. When he gets to point where people don't know whether to close on him hard or back off, that's when he's really going to have the defense at his mercy.”
Williams had plenty of defenses at his mercy in high school, whether it was at Phoebus High School in Virginia for three years or Oak Hill Academy for his senior season. He overcame an inconsistent outside shot by attacking the rim to average 16.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.0 blocks for Oak Hill and was named Gatorade Player of the Year.
His development was accelerated thanks to his uncle, Boo Williams, one of the nation's top AAU basketball coaches/organizers. Before coming to IU this summer, Troy Williams participated in the Pre-Draft Camp in Houston where he worked with former NBA player and coach John Lucas.
While Williams won't replace Yogi Ferrell at point guard, he could handle shooting guard and small forward in time.
“The coaches want me to improve my skills, be a more fundamental player and not rely so much on my athleticism,” he says. “Get a better skill set so I can make easier plays on the court, play smarter on the court. The game will come a lot easier.”
As far as a ballhandling role, Williams adds, “Everybody in the practices handles the ball, guards and forwards, because you never know when you could be put in that situation.”
IU returns only Ferrell and Sheehey as key contributors from last year's NCAA tourney No. 1 seed that won its first outright Big Ten title since 1993. The six freshmen – forwards Noah Vonleh, Devin Davis and Collin Hartman; guard Stanford Robinson; and center Luke Fischer are the others – will have to make significant contributions if IU is to remain a Big Ten contender.
“We'll be seen as young,” Williams says, “but we're pretty talented.”
He knows a high standard has been set, starting with what Oladipo and Zeller did on draft night. The first public showing will come with Hoosier Hysteria on Oct. 4. The season opens Nov. 8 against Chicago State.
“There's going to be more pressure on us,” Williams says. “People will have more eyes on us and pay more attention to us. We have to ball out.”
In other words, play like Oladipo.