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Last updated: Thu. Jun. 12, 2014 - 02:38 am EDT

COLUMN

IU's big basketball unknowns – Priller and April

Can newcomers make instant impact?

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They are the great unknowns of Indiana basketball -- big men without acclaim.

Yes, Tim Priller and Jeremiah April bring size, but do they have game? Are they long-term projects or instant contributors? Can they provide the inside presence that could tip the scale from a decent Hoosier season into an exceptional one?

More harshly, are they studs or duds?

No one knows.

Coach Tom Crean has diamond-in-the-rough hope after making them late-spring additions. If he's right, Priller and April could make major impact in the prove-'em-wrong manner of Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey. If Crean is not, well, teams can win with five-guard lineups.

“We were looking for upside,” he said. “When you're signing late, signing young players like them, you have to be able to project that upside.”

Projection came with big-time need. IU was hurting for size after forward Noah Vonleh's decision to go pro after one college season (he projects as a top-10 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft) and the transfers of Luke Fischer to Marquette and Jeremy Hollowell to Georgia State.

The only significant returning inside presence is under-performing 6-9 forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea. Seven-foot Peter Jurkin has battled a number of leg injuries, has barely played and likely never will.

So this spring Crean and his staff went after big men, but most of the best were already signed with other programs.

They wound up with Priller and April, who were so far under the radar (neither was ranked as a high school senior) that their commitments left recruiting experts and fans asking one big question:

Who are these guys?

Priller is a 6-9, 200-pound forward from Texas with a shooting guard's touch. He made 51 percent of his three-pointers last season at Richland High School, shot 48 percent overall and 78 percent from the line.

In other words, the dude can shoot, and if you saw IU last season, you know how big that is.

The 7-foot, 235-pound April made a huge jump in one year of prep school after an uninspiring high school career in Arizona. Part of that was adjusting to a rapidly growing body -- he grew 4 inches in the last three years. He averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds at Westwind Prep last season.

The numbers for April and Priller didn't come against anything close to Big Ten caliber competition. What can these players offer IU in what looms as a pivotal season?

Both arrived on campus this week to begin the Hoosiers' rigorous offseason conditioning and development program.

“Both of them have got to be blanket-and-pillow guys at Cook Hall with the weight room,” Crean said. “There's no question about that.”

Translation: They have to live in the weight room.

“They've got to gain the strength and they've got to gain the level of intensity that they're going to need to train at,” Crean said. “They're going to have to get that. But both guys have been well coached and they come from pretty good basketball areas. And I think the upside is really, really strong.”

Let's start with Priller. Crean said he's similar to former Nevada standout Nick Fazekas, a 2007 second-round pick of the Dallas Mavericks who has spent most of his pro career in Europe and Japan.

“Tim Priller is one of those people that reminds me of a more athletic Nick Fazekas,” Crean said. “We recruited (Fazekas) when we were at Marquette. He was one of those guys that, he looked a little bit unorthodox, but all that happened was the shot went in.

“To me, Tim brings that. Anybody that's at that size, playing in that level of competition that shoots 52 percent from three, that's going to get your attention right away.

“He's got an attitude of getting better. I think he's going to bring in a real hunger to improve, to prove people wrong. I loved what I saw on film and it wasn't just the ability to make shots, it was how he impacted games when he wasn't shooting. It's drawing a charge at 6-9 at the end of a game to win a game. It's grabbing a big rebound. I think he can pass. He's got to get stronger.”

As for April, Crean said, “He's one of those late-bloomer guys. I don't think he's anywhere near where he's going to be.

“Jeremiah has got very good timing. He's got excellent hands for a big player. He's got tremendous soft touch. So very soft hands and a soft touch.

“It would be a lot different story, because he's relatively raw there's no question about that, but if he didn't have really good hands and didn't have a nice touch, then you're looking at a guy who may not become a good shooter. We think he's going to become a very good shooter.

“He's got good timing on blocking shots. I don't think he understands the intensity level yet that he's capable of playing at on a daily basis or what's going to be expected of him. I love his attitude. I love his family. I really like his coach and I like how excited he is to come to Indiana.”

Will summer love become winter performance?

IU's postseason prospects just might depend on it.

pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com


This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.


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