All the roster turnover Indiana men’s basketball underwent this offseason has created opportunities for many players in the coming season.
In the backcourt, Xavier Johnson and Trey Galloway lead the pack. But IU has a lot of youth behind them. And sophomore CJ Gunn could be the one to step up as the primary backup guard this year.
The Indianapolis native played 8.3 minutes per game across his 12 appearances for IU last year. Gunn never quite settled into an offensive rhythm that could’ve earned him a bigger role, going just 1 for 13 from 3-point range. He had some bright moments at times, particularly his 11-point game against Elon. But IU’s backcourt was different last year, with Jalen Hood-Schifino dominating and Tamar Bates available off the bench.
Gunn said he felt like he did well on the defensive end last year, which will provide a good base to build on for the rest of his career.
“I felt like my offense wasn’t necessarily clicking how I wanted it to. But as long as you’re confident, I feel like, and you put the effort into the gym and the countless days, I feel like that side is just gonna handle itself,” Gunn said. “But that defensive, that’s all effort and energy. And I feel like I’ve always brought that, every time I stepped out on the court. And I will continue to bring that and take my two-way game to the next level as well.”
Aside from Galloway and Johnson, the only other member of IU’s backcourt who isn’t an underclassman is Anthony Leal, who has yet to carve out a role for himself during his IU career. Freshmen guards Gabe Cupps and Jakai Newton will have chances to contribute. But Gunn could wind up being IU’s main reserve guard this year, if he can make some improvements.
For Gunn, that work comes as much on the mental side of the game as the physical side.
“(Trying to improve) just being more effective. Knowing a good shot from a bad shot, cutting off the ball, and getting my teammates involved as well,” Gunn said. “And also where I’m looking to evolve my game this year further is bringing the ball up the floor and being more of a combo guard transitioning from the 1 and the 2.”
Gunn is capable of being a better outside shooter than he showed last year. That ability was part of his makeup as a four-star recruit out of Lawrence North High.
Director of player development Calbert Cheaney has helped Gunn work on his game this summer. Gunn already knew Cheaney before he returned to the program. But once the IU legend arrived, their bond strengthened through on-court work.
And Gunn, after watching some of Cheaney’s tape, sees some similarities between the way Cheaney played and the player he wants to be.
“He really lived in the mid-range when he was in the league, and that’s really one of my specialties, my ability to leap off the floor and raise above my opponents to let my shot off. So he really is teaching me how to be more effective with one or two dribbles with either collapsing the defense or getting my shot off,” Gunn said. “I feel like he’s really rooting for us, and he’s just another piece of the puzzle in making this program great.”