In just his second game at IU, Al Durham made three first half 3-pointers and finished the game with 16 points to help give Archie Miller his first career win at Indiana as the Hoosiers defeated Howard.
On that night it was clear that Durham was going to give Indiana a little bit more than what the recruiting services predicted. Three-star recruits slotted outside the top-150 aren’t supposed to have games like that as freshmen, and they aren’t supposed to finish high major college basketball careers with 1,000 points, but Durham eclipsed that mark during his final home game on Bloomington on Saturday as the Hoosiers fell to Michigan 73-57.
Durham’s 3-pointer with 19:08 left in the second half helped keep IU within in striking distance of No. 3 Michigan, and that basket made him the 53rd Indiana player to reach 1,000 points for his career. His 3-pointer gave the impression that Indiana might make it interesting against the Wolverines. And that’s how it has always been for the 6-foot-4 guard — exceeding expectations, and giving his teams that are not always living up to expectations, a chance.
Michigan head coach Juwan Howard knows a high level player when he sees one. The former Wolverines “Fab Five” star and NBA veteran player and coach made a point to track down Durham after the game.
“It was nothing but respect,” Durham said of his post-game exchange with Howard. “He told me he loved my game. It was a great conversation with him. That is a legend and I have nothing but respect for him.”
Howard has made a career out of the game of basketball. Durham can certainly do that too, whether as a professional player or a coach — or most likely — both. The son of a coach, Durham has been a student of the game throughout his life, and his current head coach sees a bright future in whatever path Durham chooses.
“Al is a guy that 10, 15 years from now right now, I mean, I wouldn’t surprised whatever field he’s in, how successful he’s going to be just because of the personality, the teamwork, likable, smart. I mean, he’s just got so many different types of things going for him,” Miller said.
Durham started the third game of his career after his surprising production against Howard. He was in and out of the starting lineup for the remainder of that 2017-18 freshman season. With recruiting on the rise as Miller settled in, Durham was supposed to be relegated to a reserve role — but it never happened. He started 30 games as a sophomore, 32 as a junior, and he started his 94th game on Saturday, his last at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall unless he decides to return for a fifth season. That is something which seems unlikely right now but Durham said he had no comment on it after the game.
The Georgia native was never pushed to the bench in large part because he wouldn’t allow it to happen. And that resolve started in the weight room. It was always an uphill battle for Durham to add weight, something that is crucial for survival in the Big Ten. But he added more than 20 pounds of mass during his time at IU, and before his final home game against Michigan, Durham shared a long embrace on the court with IU strength and conditioning coach Clif Marshall.
“Clif has been a big part of who I am today,” Durham said. “I feel like he has impacted my life on and off the court. I came in a buck-60 and he has helped me in that way. He has helped me in life situations off the court being there for me and also creating a great relationship with him throughout my four years with him.”
On the court, Durham’s career arc stairsteps the way coaches hope they will. Durham originally committed to play for Tom Crean at IU, the last player on the roster with that distinction. But he quickly chose to stay when Miller was hired as Crean’s replacement, and each year at Indiana Durham has increased his scoring production, rebounds, assists and 3-point percentage. For Miller, that constant development defines who his senior guard is.
“You go through a lot of ups and downs as players, and Al is a special player to me,” Miller said. “He’s as loyal as it gets; he’s as coachable as it gets; and he’s as hard of a working guy as you’ll ever be around.”
Durham likely would have played in the NCAA Tournament as a junior if the season wasn’t cancelled because of COVID-19. The possibility to play in the event still exists this year, although the likelihood is fading as IU has lost four of five down the stretch. He won’t go down as one of IU’s winningest players, but the Hoosiers always seemed to be getting more than they expected from the soft-spoken Durham.
And he is happy to let that work ethic become the story of his time in Bloomington. Durham was asked about the most rewarding aspect of his Indiana career.
“I feel like there are too many things I’ve been blessed with,” he said. “I would say just seeing the hard work come to fruition. I feel like working my behind off since freshman year is listening and learning a lot. There are a lot of things I’ve taken from Indiana in terms of relationships, basketball, friendships, anything it’s all been living, learning and a blessing. It has been a great experience all the way around.”
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