It has been the story of the Archie Miller era at Indiana in many respects.
Which player or players are the leaders of this program? We wrote about the apparent lack of true floor leadership just months into Miller’s first season, and to all appearances, not much has changed in the last two years.
Someone else that has been talking about it is a person who has seen this Indiana basketball program up close and personal for more than 40 years.
The voice of IU basketball Don Fischer knows what attributes have led to the great Indiana basketball teams. And he knows what is missing from the most recent vintage squads.
“This team needs a leader,” Fischer said on The Dan Dakich show on Monday. “It needs the guy who is an alpha male who steps up, tells everybody what’s what, and isn’t afraid to tell everybody what’s what.”
A lot of things haven’t been right with IU basketball since 2016. No NCAA Tournament appearances, no wins against Purdue. No identity. No culture.
Also, no Yogi Ferrell.
“I can’t remember the last time Indiana had a real leader on their basketball team,” Fischer said. “Yogi (Ferrell) is probably the last guy that was a leader on this ball club.”
Indiana is just 68-54 as of this writing since Ferrell departed for the NBA, a mark that spans both the Miller era and Tom Crean’s final year in Bloomington.
Miller pointed during the offseason to Joey Brunk and Rob Phinisee as two players that he believed would step up and become more verbal leaders in this program.
While some indication of verbal leadership has been observed from Brunk, Phinisee and others including Al Durham and Justin Smith, there is a difference between verbal leadership and the true alpha male that Fischer is describing.
And the reality is, Indiana likely just doesn’t have that guy.
“I don’t think you can really turn into the alpha leader,” former IU player Todd Leary told me on Indiana Sports Beat a couple weeks ago. “You’re either born with that or your’re not. At this point I don’t think they have a natural born leader that’s out there on the floor.
“But you don’t have to be a leader to play hard.”
And that begs the question. Even without leaders, why isn’t Miller able to get his team to consistently play hard?
Fischer said something else concerning about the IU program. Something that could point to why things haven’t changed during Miller’s tenure.
“You’ve got to have the ability as a coach to get their (the players) attention,” Fischer said. “In some respects I think Archie does his best at that. I’m just not sure that he’s not handcuffed in that area.”
Some might speculate that those comments relate back to the roster that Miller inherited from former head coach Tom Crean, and Miller’s inability to make wholesale changes.
The school publishes the basketball program’s Academic Progress Rate (APR), and it seems clear that major roster turnover in 2017 would have led to meaningful punishment by the NCAA, including the possibility of a postseason ban.
It is also well understood that Indiana has just middle-of-the-road men’s basketball facilities, and unnecessary restrictions on admitting graduate transfers. Those are just two examples of the roadblocks put in place at the administrative level.
But Fischer’s comment seemed to be more in the context of discipline.
There have long been suggestions that the administrative side of Indiana University has been heavy-handed with IU Athletics since the firing of Bob Knight back in 2000. The thinking goes that the administration is loathe to have another coach become bigger than the school.
Some evidence of that could be seen when former football head coach Kevin Wilson was forced to resign in 2016. While the specific details of what Wilson did wrong were never released, it seems clear that the issue was more along the lines of a pattern of questionable behavior rather than one major incident.
Allegations of player mistreatment surfaced but haven’t been confirmed. Athletic Director Fred Glass would only cite “philosophical differences” as the reason for Wilson’s forced resignation.
It isn’t known whether the Wilson situation was forced by the university, something that clearly needed to happen, or perhaps a messy web of factors.
And what exactly Fischer was alluding to isn’t entirely clear either.
But it wasn’t news to Dakich.
“You should never handcuff a guy at that level,” Dakich said. “I know exactly what you mean.”
Miller might be the only true alpha male in the program. He might not be able to convert his players into natural born leaders, but it is surprising that he hasn’t been able to get his team to consistently play harder.
It appears that there could be larger forces holding him back.
You can listen to the full interview with Fischer below. The segment starts at the 23 minute mark.
You can follow us on Twitter: @daily_hoosier
Find us on Facebook: thedailyhoosier
The Daily Hoosier –“Where Indiana fans assemble when they’re not at Assembly”
Seven ways to support completely free IU coverage at no additional cost to you.