No one is a greater mystery going into this 2021-22 IU basketball season than 23-year-old shooting guard Parker Stewart.
He hasn’t played a college basketball game since February, 2020, and just two seasons over the last four, but he was a starter for IU in The Bahamas in August.
Stewart is best known as a shooter, but his best season from 3-point range was way back in the 2017-18 campaign, when he played against the top competition he has faced.
According to head coach Mike Woodson, Stewart was “probably the best player in the gym” in the early summer before he “just took a back seat.”
Oh, and he can shoot it, but can he defend?
So many questions and unknowns.
Just who is Stewart, and what can Indiana fans expect?
By now you probably know the story of how he ended up at IU. Stewart’s father Anthony, his head coach at UT Martin, tragically passed away unexpectedly in November, 2020. In search of a familiar face he was comfortable with, Stewart turned to IU, and the assistant coach he originally committed to play for at Nebraska, Kenya Hunter.
Stewart backed out of his Nebraska commitment and went to Pitt when Hunter left Lincoln for UConn. Now together as originally planned, this time in Bloomington, Hunter is leading the charge of being Stewart’s support system when he is away from his mother and siblings.
“He’s gonna have his good days and his bad days,” Hunter said of Stewart in April. “The reason why he came here is that when he does have those bad days, people are in his corner and support and understand his situation.”
On the basketball court, most expect Stewart’s good days to involve production from behind the 3-point line.
In his lone season at Pitt, Stewart started 20 times as a true freshman and made 38.6 percent of his 3-pointers on 184 attempts. In ACC Conference games he shot an even better 42.5 percent from behind the arc. After sitting out the 2018-19 season after deciding to transfer and play for his father at UT Martin, Stewart made 34.8 percent of his threes on 204 attempts in 2019-20. The decline in his percentage can likely at least in part be attributed to him becoming the centerpiece of the offense. He took more than twice as many shots per game at UT Martin than at Pitt.
Without that expectation of carrying the scoring load every night, can the 6-foot-5 and 202 pound Stewart regain his shooting prowess of more than three years ago at Pitt?
There have been several data points over the last seven months to suggest Stewart will in fact live up to that reputation.
The first came when Hunter returned to Bloomington in the spring after a few days away and was informed by Associate A.D. Thad Matta that Stewart had gone on a 20-for-21 3-point shooting binge. It was around that time Trayce Jackson-Davis spoke effusively of Stewart.
“Parker is a hooper. Parker shoots the ball at a very, very, very high level. I’ve already seen it,” Jackson-Davis said. “He can shoot it off the dribble, he can shoot spot-up threes. He puts the ball in the hole.”
Right before Indiana left for The Bahamas and right after Woodson said he wanted to get his “ass back playing how he was,” Stewart made 7-of-10 3-pointers over two scrimmages. And then finally, Stewart won the the 3-point shooting competition at Hoosier Hysteria.
“It’s a situation where you’ve done it in practice and now hopefully that translates in games for us,” Hunter said.
Stewart isn’t going to be afraid to shoot the ball. He has a scorer’s mentality, and he averaged 19.2 a game in 2019-20 including four games of 30 or more. And he’s shown that he can contribute much more than scoring the basketball. Stewart was the only NCAA Division I player to average at least 19.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.5 3-point field goals made per game in 2019-20.
It will be interesting to see where he is able to generate scoring opportunities. His teammates see him as more than just a catch-and-shoot perimeter weapon on the court.
“Obviously everyone knows his shooting ability, but he can really score the ball on all three levels,” senior point guard Rob Phinisee said.
The more you listen to folks around him, Stewart begins to send to sound like a complete player who could maintain that starting role to open the season.
But can he defend?
Hunter said Stewart can guard the point guard through small forward positions. He guards through physicality and effort more than via high-end lateral quickness, so we suspect he’ll be covering more twos and threes, especially with Phinisee and Xavier Johnson available to guard the point.
Phinisee, no defensive slouch himself, has been impressed on that end of the floor.
“He plays with toughness too, he plays super hard and he’s actually a really good defender,” Phinisee said.
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
- Khristian Lander in a good environment to develop and reach his potential
- Miller Kopp can help cure what has ailed IU from 3-point range
- Trey Galloway can thrive in Indiana’s new offensive system
- Rob Phinisee hoping to pull it all together in year four
- Anthony Leal bought in on Mike Woodson’s vision
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