Nothing looked right because nothing felt right for then 18-year-old Khristian Lander.
The offense wasn’t a good fit, the pace of the game too slow, and his confidence? It was gone.
Fast forward to a new season, a second season, and to what for most people his age would be a true freshman season.
Things certainly aren’t going to come easy for Lander at IU in 2021-22. It is difficult to recall a time when Indiana had more depth at the point guard position. Real depth, that is, with three guys who can play at this level.
Lander may have the shinier recruiting accolades, but if he wants to see serious minutes this year he’ll have to leap frog not one but two three-year starters at the high major level. Rob Phinisee and Xavier Johnson have combined to amass 150 starts between them during their time at IU and Pitt, respectively.
The 6-foot-2 Lander’s numbers from 2020-21 after reclassifying to play a year early don’t paint a pretty picture. The Evansville product appeared in 26 games for Indiana, all off the bench. He averaged 2.1 points, 1.2 assists and 1.0 turnovers per game in 10.2 minutes per contest while shooting 25.7 percent from the field overall including 27.3 percent from behind the 3-point arc.
It didn’t matter where Lander was shooting from, near or far, nothing was going in. Soon it became obvious what the problem was, and both he and his father would later acknowledge it. But Lander believes he’s been able to work through his shattered confidence over the last six months.
“I think it was just my confidence level was kind of down but it’s back up now and I think that’s really all I needed was my confidence level,” he said at Indiana’s media day. “My work ethic and all that will take care of itself.”
What has been the difference to help Lander get his mind right since we last saw him on the court in March?
“I’ve matured a lot and the positive energy around me this year is a whole lot better,” Lander said.
And for all the challenges Lander faced starting college a year early, he believes that experience is what is now allowing him to enter this season with a fresh perspective.
“I think it gave me a pretty good head start because I got the experience of college early, and I matured a whole lot through that whole year,” he said.
Lander and his family liked new head coach Mike Woodson’s message, and they particularly like his style of offensive basketball. Woodson knew Lander was a special talent, and he was particularly intrigued by his speed and vision. But it’s fair to say Woodson also knew he had a bit of a project on his hands. Building up player’s confidence is a challenge Woodson seems to relish, and already he has seen his young point guard take steps in the right direction.
“Khristian is starting to step up now, where he was a little behind the eight ball,” Woodson said. “Khristian has made some nice strides in terms of where he was obviously a year ago.”
Woodson spoke those words in late September, and when we next saw Lander publicly at Hoosier Hysteria he was sitting out and wearing a walking boot. He is now back on the court and he played in the scrimmage on Saturday against Belmont.
Lander will be ready to go and should see the floor as IU faces eight low to mid-major opponents in the non-conference.
But just how much will he see the floor as the schedule stiffens? That’s hard to say with the stiff competition he faces for playing time.
While Johnson and Phinisee may appear to be obstacles now, if Lander has the right perspective and maintains the long view, eventually the in-house competition will serve him well. Not many 19-year-olds have the chance to develop against not one, but two players of that caliber.
With Lander, the potential for a break-out will always be there, and already his teammates see a difference.
“He’s going against Rob and Xavier every day,” Race Thompson said on the House of Hoosier podcast. “He’s definitely tough. He’s getting better every single day. He’s definitely stronger, more confident in his shot, and he’s also a really good passer. I think he’ll be able to help us a lot this year.”
MORE 2021-22 IU BASKETBALL PLAYER PREVIEWS:
- Xavier Johnson can change the game with his speed.
- Trayce Jackson-Davis can improve even without the jump shot and right hand
- Race Thompson is expected to shoot the ball
- Michael Durr gives IU much-needed size
- Logan Duncomb plans to hustle his way to floor
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