If finding somewhere he could be in the starting five from day one was his priority, Malik Reneau surely could have located that opportunity on the college basketball landscape.
But with multiyear frontcourt starters Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson back, along with returning talent like Jordan Geronimo in the mix, Indiana might have been one of the last places to go for a player just hunting for guaranteed minutes.
Reneau knew the situation in Bloomington when he committed in April.
“It’s definitely a developmental opportunity, but I’m in there, and I’m trying to play too, so it’s going to be competitive in the practices and stuff, and it’s just going to be good for everyone in the front court,” Reneau told The Daily Hoosier right after he announced his commitment.
Indiana wasn’t the first challenge Reneau took on where he made things more difficult on himself than he had to.
The Miami, Fla. product was the star of his Mater Academy team as a sophomore in 2019-20, averaging 21 points and 11 rebounds along the way. But rather than remaining content with being a local star, Reneau went to Montverde Academy with the knowledge he might come off the bench as a junior, and he did, while developing against current Detroit Piston lottery pick Jalen Duren.
Once again, Reneau is taking the long view and betting on himself as he embarks on what could be another first year reserve role.
Reneau arrived in Bloomington a month ago not looking like your typical college freshman. At 6-foot-9 and 235 pounds, his physique highlights another benefit gained from two years at Montverde.
“When I sat down with (IU training) Coach Clif (Marshall) it was really maintaining my weight and building muscle and trying to stay at a good weight, not trying to gain weight or lose weight, because I came in already built and had that weight on me,” Reneau said on Thursday. “So, I’m really just maintaining my weight, getting stronger in the weight room.”
Going up against Jackson-Davis and Thompson now on a daily basis, Reneau is already finding out why he needs to get stronger.
Even though he was playing against high-end competition at a national prep school, Reneau has learned some of his old tricks don’t work against grown men.
“I’ve been going against Race and Trayce for two weeks now,” Reneau said. “You can tell the physical difference from high school and college. It’s hard to bump bodies with Race and Trayce because they are all solid and it’s not easy to move them.
“So, I have to find different moves or get past them with speed and not just overpower them and that’s where I found a big difference and from high school and from college. I mean, I feel like it’s more a finesse game and not just trying to back down your man.”
Two years at Montverde also taught Reneau what it takes to put a winning product on the court. The Eagles won back-to-back national titles over the last two seasons. Reneau experienced those two years both from the perspective of a reserve and a starter.
Perhaps that’s why when you ask him what he can do to help this Indiana team, scoring the basketball sounds more like a byproduct than a goal.
He knows the game is much more complex.
“I’d say having a winning mentality, competing on the court,” Reneau said when asked what he can bring to the floor for IU. “You know, doing whatever it takes to help my team win, not only you know trying to score the basketball but help on the defensive end, set good screens to the point guards and stuff like that and just try to do all the little stuff and that’s what’s going to help my game expand into like scoring.”
Reneau will likely begin his freshman season on the bench, serving as a backup for both Jackson-Davis and Thompson. His ability to play both spots will help him maximize his time on the floor, whether he starts or not. That’s been his experience so far in practice, as he’s been playing at both the four and the five in scrimmages this summer.
“I’ve been playing the four and the five, but I’ve been playing the four most of the time, going up against Race a lot,” Reneau said.
While he arrives at IU highly-skilled on the block, Reneau’s future in the game at 6-foot-9 is likely more on the perimeter. He is getting that chance at IU at the four, which he confirmed has been a more outside of the paint position in Indiana’s system.
To stay out of the paint, Reneau knows the areas of his game that must develop.
“Improve my three-point shot, and just being confident with my jump shot and working on attacking close-outs,” he said when asked the part of his game he is focused on improving.
The hope for Indiana is that the development runs both ways with a long and strong high-caliber talent like Reneau in the program.
Last year was Trayce Jackson-Davis appeared to improve down the stretch, perhaps buoyed by facing length in practice every day. That’s something he didn’t see as a sophomore.
Indiana has one of its deepest and more talented rosters and recent memory. In some respects, it is a Montverde-like approach. While some may have to sacrifice minutes, everyone gets better and if all goes according to plan, the team wins.
“It’s going to help not only me but everybody takes their game to the next level and that’s what we need,” Reneau said of Indiana’s depth.
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