Jalen Hood-Schifino doesn’t look or act like your run-of-the-mill college basketball freshman.
At 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, he is built like a senior.
To hear him talk is like listening to an upperclassman.
And he plans to come in and do what many freshmen aren’t prepared for — play an important role from the start.
Behind all of that is quiet but undeniable confidence, fueled by an intense competitive spirit.
You can thank some tough love from his family for that last part. And along with elite preparation at Montverde Academy, it’s why Hood-Schifino isn’t fazed by players several years older than him at IU workouts this summer.
“Growing up, I always played against older competition. Played against my older cousins,” Hood-Schifino said.
“It was literally just every day playing in my grandma’s backyard, my grandma and granddad’s backyard, going against my other cousins Sherron and DeAndre, they pushed me every day. I was always the young kid, and all their older friends, my big bros, they would be up there and they would always bully me.”
Eventually the tide turned and Hood-Schifino could hold his own in the Pittsburgh backyard.
“It got to a point where I got good and I was able to compete with them, so it just helped me and really bred me into who I am now,” he said.
“I would say 12 I was able to compete with them and then once I hit probably eighth, ninth grade, I was like winning some games a little bit.”
Winning became a major part of Hood-Schifino’s story in high school. He was a two-time GEICO Nationals champion with Montverde. But he is the young kid on the block again now. Hood-Schifino just turned 19 a few days ago, and he is competing for playing time at point guard against fifth-year college player Xavier Johnson, who will turn 23 in October and was one of the best point guards in the Big Ten last year.
On paper it’s a mismatch, just like young Jalen against his older cousins.
And there’s some history with Hood-Schifino and Johnson that even adds a familial element.
“Prior to coming into Indiana, I already had a relationship with Xavier, so we kind of already built that bond,” Hood-Schifino said.
“I’m from Pittsburgh and he played at Pitt, so me and him had kind of already built a relationship. I started to talk to him like through Instagram and I even played pickup with him when I was in Pittsburgh a couple times.”
While Johnson likely isn’t taking it easy on Hood-Schifino in team workouts, he isn’t bullying him either. They are competing for minutes, but there is also a thought that the pair can share the floor more often than not, especially if one or both of them are making perimeter shots.
A two point guard approach worked for eight straight national champions prior to Kansas, and Hood-Schifino believes it can work this year in Bloomington.
“I mean, the way he (Indiana head coach Mike Woodson) wants to play fits my game perfect,” Hood-Schifino said. “He wants to play fast, get the ball out. For me, playing alongside Xavier Johnson that would be great. I think we both complement each other’s games pretty well.”
Hood-Schifino isn’t guaranteed anything this year.
He’s competing against more than just Johnson. There’s Tamar Bates, Trey Galloway and others who believe they belong on the court for the lion’s share of the backcourt minutes.
Hood-Schifino’s preparation at Montverde and the lessons of his childhood remind him, when life presents a challenge, it’s time to compete.
And his cousins know what happens next.
“Now, it’s like, you know, I don’t lose no more,” Hood-Schifino said of the current state of the family battles.
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