ROSEMONT, Ill. — Indiana coach Tom Crean has few constants as his team prepares for a season without Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford.
Although he lost those four, who each scored more than 1,100 points as Hoosiers, Crean is comfortable with two sure things that remain: senior forward Will Sheehey and sophomore point guard Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell.
“I love what Will Sheehey and Yogi Ferrell are trying to provide for us on the sense of on the floor and in the sense of the way they’re trying to help make it even more competitive, the way they’re trying to lead,” Crean said.
“We’ve got the culture moving in the right direction, when it comes to work ethic, and when it comes to character, and now we’ve just got to understand how hard and tough and competitive you have to be on a daily basis.”
Sheehey, last season’s Big Ten sixth man of the year, and Ferrell, who led the team in assists as a freshman, have the best grasp of that concept.
Sheehey, a 6-foot-7, 200-pound forward, averaged 9.5 points, 3.5 assists and 1.3 rebounds as a junior.
The 6-foot Ferrell, a former McDonald’s All-American, put up 7.6 points, 4.1 assists and 2.8 rebounds while starting all 36 games.
Both realized during the offseason that they had to develop their chemistry further, both on and off the court, to effectively lead an IU team that has six incoming freshmen and lost so much.
The two tried out and made the cut for the U.S. World University Games squad. They spent most of July in Kazan, Russia, where they experienced international culture and worked to a ninth-place finish among 24 national teams.
Now, they’re tutoring six freshmen, most of whom will contribute significant minutes for the Hoosiers as they try to duplicate the success of the group that left last season.
“It’s different that they’re gone, and I’m the person that has to teach those certain things,” such as spacing and practice habits, Sheehey said.
“It’s difficult, but people say the best form of studying is actually teaching it to someone else. I think I’ve learned a lot more about basketball and a lot of other things just by making sure those guys are doing the right thing.”
Ferrell and Sheehey often play off each other, the Park Tudor grad said. Sheehey is the disciplinarian; Ferrell, the kinder voice.
“I kind of have to step in and be the good guy and tell them why he’s getting on them,” Ferrell said. “What they’re doing wrong so they don’t get down on themselves.”
The two make an odd pair, but the combination works well for what Crean’s squad needs now: strict discipline, mixed with calm teaching.
“For us right now we’re trying to get to a point where we have a consistent level of leadership and guys understand that leadership is nurturing, but it’s also demanding,” Crean said. “There’s a real total want, and it’s just going to take awhile to get the whole how to.”