You are in good company if Romeo Langford was the first player that you were looking for in Thursday night’s IU basketball exhibition against Southern Indiana. The New Albany, Indiana native was of course the headliner of a top ten 2018 Hoosier recruiting class.
After the game, it was two of Langford’s 2018 classmates and fellow Hoosier natives that were generating the buzz.
For everyone involved, exhibitions are about practice. Even the IU legends are getting to know the new names and faces. IU public address announcer Chuck Crabb needed a little practice getting Damezi Anderson’s name right.
If you knew nothing else about Anderson, you likely have heard that he can stroke it from long range. With four three-pointers on the night, if you didn’t know that, you do now.
“Obviously Damezi showed a little bit of what he can do from behind the line. He’s a big guard, can shoot the ball,” IU head coach Archie Miller said after the game.
It can be hard to separate fact from fiction in the hysteria that is IU basketball fandom, but rumors had been swirling of Anderson struggling to acclimate as a freshman. Miller addressed that topic last night.
“His struggles are like all young guys. He’s learning how to play defense the first time a certain way. Offensively he’s learning how to play a new style. He thinks a lot at times. But I thought tonight it was nice to see him let it go. He has that ability, the skill level behind the three-point line. He’s a big, strong kid. I think the better he gets defensively, the more minutes he’ll get,” Miller said.
Miller wasn’t the only one that saw Anderson do in last night’s game what he shows in practice on a regular basis. Walk-on guard Johnny Jager sees Anderson every day and had this to say about the 6-foot-7 South Bend native.
“He’s a shooter, as you can see. Put it up, he makes it. Having a weapon like that stretches out the defense. You have to stay with him. Opens up driving lanes. Kick it to him, money three. It’s a big weapon.”
Anderson finished the game with a team leading 14 points. Crabb and everyone else now know his name.
But he wasn’t the only native Hoosier freshman that made an impression on Thursday night.
Whether due to merit or opportunity, Rob Phinisee started at point guard in the exhibition. He didn’t disappoint.
As Devonte Green recovers from an injury, whether Phinisee continues to start remains to be seen — but the question of merit seems to have been answered, at least initially. Phinisee played 28 minutes in the exhibition and scored 13 points on 5 of 11 shooting with four assists and no turnovers. That assist to turnover ratio is the key to his former point guard head coach’s heart.
Miller was often described as a tough minded scrappy player in college, and now he is seeing some of that same spirit in his freshman point guard.
“He’s taking advantage of opportunity. It is what it is. Right now it’s come to the level that he’s that man up. He has to be able to step in and do a good job. I think you saw a little bit of a glimpse of what we kind of see every single day: solid, really, really tough-minded defensively, smart. Offensively still has to learn how to play the college game. Doesn’t really know how that feels yet. For the most part he’s been pretty impressive,” Miller said after the game.
Of course with Miller having played point guard himself at North Carolina State, he has a keen eye for what Phinisee needs to continue to do to improve on both ends of the floor.
“With Rob, what we’re trying to get Rob to see is see the floor a little earlier in transition where he can get guys like Romeo or Juwan the ball a little bit ahead of the defense where they have some more room to attack. Advancing the ball a little bit more for him.”
Miller seems impressed with where Phinisee is on the defensive end of the floor — which is a must to get minutes in the second year coach’s program —
“I think Rob and Romeo as freshmen playing (on defense) that amount of minutes, you are you’re looking at two guys doing a pretty good job right now early in their career, not making a ton of mistakes.”
Miller isn’t the only one that has come away impressed with the Lafayette, Indiana native. Jager competes against Phinisee every day in practice, and sees a freshman that is physically ready for the rigors of high major college basketball.
“Coming in as a freshman, he’s the strongest freshman I’ve ever seen. That dude is built, he’s tough. When he’s on the ball, defense is really good. It’s tough to get around that guy. He’s strong, quick, fast. He’s just really solid all around,” Jager said.
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