Photo credit - IU Athletics

Close friends Jalen Hood-Schifino and Malik Reneau carrying big expectations for IU basketball

As the Montverde (Florida) Academy boys basketball team celebrated its GEICO Nationals victory in April, Malik Reneau and Jalen Hood-Schifino hugged on the court.

And that’s when Reneau knew.

The pair had grown close in the more than two years they played together and knew each other. Reneau decommitted from Florida a couple weeks before that, and he had an opportunity available to play with Hood-Schifino at Indiana.

In that jubilant moment, Reneau realized that’s what he wanted. That was a few weeks before he officially committed to IU, but in his heart, he knew he wanted to stay with Hood-Schifino.

Reneau welled with emotion thinking about that, and his relationship with Hood-Schifino in general, at IU basketball Media Day in September.

“Me and Jalen have been through a lot, (from) sitting on the bench at Montverde to playing and winning national championships,” Reneau said. “It’s a big thing with him. Just knowing that I got my brother next (to) me is a big factor.”

Hood-Schifino and Reneau headline a highly-touted Indiana freshman class, along with Kaleb Banks and CJ Gunn. It’s a class many are hoping will help the Hoosiers achieve big things this year.

Having played together in high school, Hood-Schifino and Reneau came in with existing rapport beyond what most players enter college with. They’ve leaned on each other as they adapted to college life, both generally and basketball-wise. Playing at a high-level prep program like Montverde helped with that transition — Hood-Schifino compared Montverde to a small college. But having a friend to go through it with is invaluable.

“I think all relationships take time for me to gradually get close. But I think our personalities are real laid back. We gravitated towards each other pretty fast,” Hood-Schifino said. “My three years of knowing him, we got really close. I’m excited to go play with him in college again. It’s going to be fun.”

On the floor, Hood-Schifino is a guard and Reneau is a forward. So they’re not always directly competing in practice. 

But they still battle each other however possible. They find other outlets for that competitive drive off the court. Reneau said they compete for little things around their house.

Video games are a big thing for them, along with Banks and Gunn. They particularly enjoy NBA 2K and Madden NFL. Reneau called Gunn and himself the best 2K players of the four.

The games get intense.

“It’s big trash talking when we start playing 2K and stuff like that,” Reneau said. “I think that’s where we let all our emotion out, yelling at each other. I feel like that’s when we start really being super competitive, when we’re (playing) video games.”

They’ve played against each other so much already that they know how the others will play. Reneau said that’s especially true with Hood-Schifino.

“They do all the same things. You know what they’re going to do before they even do it,” Reneau said. “It gets easy when you start playing them all the time. Especially Fino, because he’ll do the same play four times in a row. You just catch on. And then he’ll quit.”

Maybe not with video games, but in real basketball, those competitive attitudes are part of what Mike Woodson likes about his freshmen. There’s always some degree of learning curve for newcomers adjusting to the next level, but these IU freshmen came right in and got to work. 

“I don’t put pressure on these freshmen. But on the flip side of that, I’ve got to speed the process up,” Woodson said at IU’s Media Day. “They can’t play like freshmen. I’m going to need those guys to be a big part of what we do.”

There are big expectations for this class, especially Hood-Schifino and Reneau. In an unofficial media poll by The Athletic and The Columbus Dispatch, Hood-Schifino was selected preseason Big Ten freshman of the year.

At Big Ten Media Days, Woodson said he’s still evaluating whether Hood-Schifino will start or come off the bench, trying to find his best lineup combinations for the season. Either way, he’ll be important at point guard, and IU will count on him to help improve the team’s outside shooting.

“Schifino has been a great addition to our ballclub because he can do a lot of things on the basketball floor,” Woodson said. “But he’s got to be held accountable to play at a high level and help us win basketball games. I’m going to need him to do that.”

Reneau will most likely come off the bench, with Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson back in the frontcourt. And with Jordan Geronimo likely one of the first off the bench, and Logan Duncomb seemingly pushing for more playing time, it’s unclear how big a role Reneau will play early on.

But like Hood-Schifino, Reneau comes in with experience playing with and against many players who have since moved on to college basketball, or will eventually. Jackson-Davis and Thompson had trouble guarding Reneau — with his size, handles, and shooting ability — for the first week or two after he arrived in Bloomington.

Jackson-Davis described him as a “Big Ten body” who could be a force once he gets up to speed defensively.

The type of player who may not affect Indiana’s floor in either direction, but who could certainly impact the team’s ceiling.

“I think for him, (the next step he has to take) is not really offensively. I think his offensive game is there. It’s more on the defensive end of the floor. But that’s going to be with all freshmen,” Jackson-Davis said. “I’m just trying to help him learn tendencies, defensive schemes we have, and helping him be in the right spots. Once he gets that figured out, he’s going to be ready to go.”

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