Let’s get the easy part out of the way.
This isn’t an addition by subtraction situation.
Yes, Indiana had a couple big stars on its roster last season. But it didn’t have a problem with bad attitudes or poor work ethic when it came to its higher profile players.
So what went wrong with the 2018-19 Hoosiers?
“I thought that the (2018-19) team competed hard at times,” Indiana head coach Archie Miller said at the Big Ten’s media day. “What we lacked was maturity. What we lacked was mental toughness going through adversity. Things like that really hurt you, and really hurt your ability to keep progressing.
“Hopefully the returners all understand that. But our new guys that are coming in understand that’s a big part of what they’re getting ready to deal with.”
Now entering his third season in Bloomington, the Indiana roster is taking on more and more of Miller’s identity each year.
There are now only two players left with the IU program (De’Ron Davis and Devonte Green) that played for former head coach Tom Crean.
But this isn’t about prior coaching staffs either.
It’s about moving forward, righting the wrongs of last season, and creating an identity that has seemed to evade Miller during his tenure in Bloomington.
So what is Miller doing to erase the ghosts of losing 12 of 13 games last season and move this program in the right direction?
Part of the solution is developing that mental toughness that always seemed to be lacking last year, and that Miller confirmed was indeed missing from the equation.
“Having a keen sense early on that we’re going to deal with adversity, that we’re going to deal with growing pains,” Miller said. “Those are things that are talked about a lot more with this group.”
While Miller isn’t going to willingly offer up the things the coaching staff has done wrong thus far, when you read into some of his statements you can start to identify the areas that require change after their own self evaluation.
“Also, coaching them hard,” Miller said. “This team has got to be prepared hard. They’ve got to be coached hard, they’ve got to be hard on themselves. They’ve got to be competitive with one another.”
And while this decidedly isn’t an addition by subtraction situation in any context, players or coaches of the past, what Miller said next did nevertheless stand out.
“All the fun and games, all the glamour, social media, you name it, Miller continued. “All the good things that come along with being an Indiana player, there’s a responsibility to understand that’s not what it’s about.”
Look, there’s no getting around the fact that last year’s team had two major stars on its roster.
But it would be wildly irresponsible to suggest that Juwan Morgan and Romeo Langford weren’t good teammates, or that they didn’t work hard.
No one with inside knowledge has said that.
Both players were well liked, respected, and hard working.
But you can be about all of those things, and still be playing with a foot out of the door, with your eyes peeking around the corner towards your next step.
In many respects, every high major college basketball team has players that are thinking about what’s next. It’s a business. It’s their future. It makes sense.
But it also isn’t necessarily a formula for winning at the highest levels of college basketball.
It is no coincidence that last year’s Final Four did not include Duke or Kentucky and their superstar laden rosters.
For Indiana to be successful going forward, Miller seems to want to build something more in line with the teams that were there in Minneapolis competing for a national championship.
When you look at a Virginia, Texas Tech or Michigan State, of course you still see stars. And yes, you still see guys jumping to the next level. That is unavoidable in today’s game.
But you also see a clear identity. A culture. You see the team over individuals.
That’s the way Miller won at Dayton, and that seems to be the direction he’s trying to take Indiana.
“For us to be at our best, on a given night, we should be sitting there talking about different people, Miller said.
“We should be talking about different people having different impacts on the game roles. Because like I said, we’ve got a lot of guys in my opinion that can get on the floor and play.
Different people, having different impacts, knowing their role and doing their job. That sounds like the foundation of a program, and for Miller, it all starts with one attribute. And it is something that he says is already apparent on this 2019-20 team.
“This year’s group has come in and has had great humility,” Miller said.
With the success going on next door at Memorial Stadium, perhaps Miller has taken note of IU football head coach Tom Allen’s “one word” philosophy.
Maybe, maybe not. But Miller did offer up his one word for this year’s edition of the Hoosiers without being asked.
“I think that’s (humility) the one word I would stress more than any word,” Miller said. “As a group of people in our program and our locker room, that word humility and what it means to us means a lot.
“A humble person is someone that lives their life doing things for others. And how many good things and how much good comes to you when you live your life through other people. If you have a group of people that will do that you’re unstoppable. It’s not easy to do, but a humble group, a humble player, a humble staff, a humble program that’s working towards other people and not themselves will get the best results with this team.
Things change over the course of a season, but this 2019-20 Indiana team appears to have no one that clearly has a foot out the door. Every kid is naturally thinking about their next step, just as we all were at that age, but this year’s group appears to have no clear stars and thus perhaps more of a program first buy in.
If nothing else, the returning players were no doubt humbled by an at times miserable and without a doubt disappointing 2018-19 campaign.
Miller told Pat Forde when he was hired that you have to create identity before culture.
Where Indiana is in that spectrum under Miller isn’t clear, but the path that he wants to put the program on does seem rather obvious.
It isn’t addition by subtraction, but this year’s team does appear to be more about the team over individuals.
That’s been the identity of Miller’s successful teams of the past, and that appears to be the direction he is taking Indiana.
But it all starts with humility, and a responsibility, as Miller said, to understand what playing for Indiana is all about.
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