It is difficult to successfully run IU basketball head coach Archie Miller’s preferred offensive attack without the right personnel.
But with roster limitations, along with a rash of nagging injuries to point guard Rob Phinisee, that is exactly what the Hoosier head coach has been attempting to do during his first three years in Bloomington.
Miller has been trumpeting his up-tempo transition offense since the day he arrived at IU. But whether due to personnel, injuries or the playing style in the Big Ten — or more likely — all of the above, Miller’s Indiana offense has mostly been bogged down in the halfcourt.
A possible solution had been out there on the radar since Miller arrived, but sitting in the class of 2021, Evansville, Ind. based Khristian Lander was a long ways off.
“Recruiting Khristian as young as we did, 15 years old, and watching him go through 10th grade, 11th grade, and watching him play out on the circuit,” Miller said of the long and involved process of recruiting the five-star point guard.
So IU waited. Phinisee’s development and production was limited as he battled a concussion, and then an abdominal injury and other physical challenges. And the offense stagnated.
In need of a spark, and with the best point guard in the class of 2021 less than two hours down I-69, Miller grew enamored.
“Last July, we were out in Colorado Springs at the USA festival and we were watching the top 60 to 80 kids out in Colorado play for two and a half days, and I pretty much sat and watched Khristian the whole time,” Miller said.
But as things stood, Miller would be through his fourth season at IU before he could potentially bring Lander to Bloomington.
The need was now, and when he watched Lander, Miller saw a skill level that was ready now.
And then a light bulb flickered.
“You talk about an amazing turn of events,” Miller said. “Low and behold some conversations started to unfold that potentially this (reclassification to the class of 2020) could be an option.”
The conversations started in the fall, and it quickly became apparent that both Lander and Indiana shared a strong interest in a reclassification to the class of 2020.
There are basketball, maturity level and academic questions that must all be answered before a player decides to move up a year.
Lander and his family had to figure out the academic part. NCAA eligibility requires prospects to have completed 16 core courses, with 10 finished by the time they enter their seventh semester of high school.
A good student at F.J. Reitz High School, that part was feasible.
As for the basketball part of the reclassification equation, Miller knew he had his guy.
“I didn’t see very many guys in Colorado that I would trade for him,” Miller said. “I thought he was going to be absolutely terrific. I watched his work ethic in their practice and their drills, and I watched him compete in that environment, and I said to myself, he’s ready right now.”
Of course the reclassification decision is now complete. Lander signed his letter of intent, and he is slated to be on Indiana’s 2020-21 roster.
Lander is transitioning from the coveted recruit to the promising young talent. A high profile national recruitment puts a lot of pressure on a still maturing teen.
Now the challenge of playing for a high profile program with obsessed fans, and all of the pressure and attention that comes with it?
Now Lander steps into that fire.
And Miller thinks his new point guard is capable of handling the challenge that is playing under a microscope at Indiana.
“You thank his family, because that’s a leap of faith,” Miller said. “You’ve got a 17 year old kid who is ready to jump to the big waters here at IU and all that goes into playing at college. Not very many guys are equipped to do that, but I think he is.”
Of course there will be turbulence along the way.
Lander is still just a kid that should be entering his senior year of high school. At times he will be facing fifth year seniors perhaps as old as 23. Grown men.
Now playing in a league known for its physical style, the transition for Lander won’t be seamless. Miller acknowledges that, but he believes Lander has the right mindset to navigate what could be a choppy first season at IU.
“He’s going to have to get physically ready to go, that will be a big challenge for him physically, but I think the fact that he is just able to maturity wise, and mentally wanting this challenge, there’s something to be said about him,” Miller said.
Lander has accepted the challenge, and he has done so in part because he knows spending the next year in Bloomington will aid his development much more than another year in high school.
And it will make IU better too.
With Lander joining Phinisee on the roster as another primary ball handler, IU should always have fresh legs and high end skill at the one.
And Miller just might be able to finally see that transition offense materialize.
“I think he can add a lot of skill to the guard spot for us, he’s going to add a lot of speed and burst to what we’re doing. He’s a great playmaker and he can also score,” Miller said.
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