When Indiana made its 2020 recruiting class official, many were skeptical about how the group would contribute in the short term.
After all, the class was made up of a then-17 year old, relatively skinny point guard, a freak athlete whose game needed refinement, and two players ranked outside the top-100 nationally.
After Indiana’s 89-59 win over Tennessee Tech, any naysayers are silent.
The mainstays of this Indiana roster produced like we knew they would. Trayce Jackson-Davis, the dominant big man whose name was included in a new preseason award watchlist seemingly every day, feasted on the lowly Golden Eagles to the tune of 26 points, 11 rebounds and three assists.
Rob Phinisee, Al Durham and Race Thompson, the battle-tested veterans on the team, were consistent and did their part. The two guys tabbed as breakout players, Jerome Hunter and Armaan Franklin, both showed flashes of their immense potential.
But against the Golden Eagles, down three guards and a head coach, the question wasn’t how Indiana’s mainstays would perform. The intrigue lied in Archie Miller’s rookies, a freshman class whose performance will be the difference between good and great for the 20-21 Hoosiers.
The young guns answered the bell in a big way.
That skinny 18-year old Khristian Lander? He looked confident, draining an 18-footer just seconds after he checked in, launching three pointers with zero hesitation and even dropping a no-look dime.
“I thought Khristian did a good job,” coach Archie Miller said about his freshman point guard. “He had some good looks that didn’t go down. He’s going to be a good one.”
The coaches kid, Trey Galloway, who wasn’t impressive enough to crack the top 140? He played 19 minutes, the most of the four, scored 13 points on 6-9 shooting and had the most athletic play of the night with an acrobatic, double-clutched reverse layup.
“He got out in transition, he can really finish, he’s good in the open floor,” Miller said about Galloway. “He definitely is one of the best players we have, without question, in transition. You’ll be able to see more of that as we keep going here.”
Anthony Leal and Jordan Geronimo, two guys considered raw, both looked competent on defense and played hard. Leal was particularly sharp on defense, flying around and communicating at a high level. Geronimo showed positional versatility, sliding seamlessly through the three and the four.
But the biggest takeaway from this group of freshmen is their intelligence and basketball IQ.
Archie Miller had all four on the floor at one point, and nothing changed on the defensive end. Geronimo sealed off a defender so Galloway could get an easy dunk. The small parts of basketball, the aspects of the game that typically take time to learn, seem to come naturally to these four.
“When my time was called to get out there, I was going to go out there and compete,” Galloway said.
Indiana wasn’t perfect in this game, far from it. The team went 10-of-22 from the free throw line and 5-of-19 from three, percentages that will likely only cut it in just one remaining game on Indiana’s schedule, vs. North Alabama on December 13th.
Though the team suffocated the undermanned Golden Eagles on the defensive side of the ball, the offense had plenty of 2019-20-esque moments of rushed shots, offensive possessions that resulted in a bad shot late in the shot clock and silly turnovers from the guards.
But the reality for Indiana, and for every college basketball team in 2020-2021, is that no one will be judged on their first game since last year’s conference tournament. We’ll see what Archie Miller’s latest group is really made of next week in Asheville, the following week in Indianapolis and Tallahassee and the next three months in conference play.
Indiana made plenty of mistakes tonight, and coach Archie Miller knows he has a lot to clean up before the first real test Monday against Providence. But for now, it is best not to gripe about every blunder the team made Wednesday night.
Instead, let’s dwell on the fact that a group of freshmen who are all unique in their own way each showed flashes of the potential we know they have, both in the short-term and the future. Brandon Gaudin, Big Tern Network’s play by play man, said it best: “They each bring something different to the table.”
“Anthony, Khristian, and I played together before in AAU,” Galloway said. “And just adding Jordan, we have a good base with each other. Our relationship is really good off the court, and it carried over on the court. We picked each other up.”
One sign Galloway and the freshmen are fitting in? He had to apologize postgame for a hoarse voice.
“Sorry, I lost my voice from screaming too much.”
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