Khristian Lander apparently didn’t make it easy on Mike Woodson, at least not to start with anyway.
After the year Lander had, he had reason to feel some level of apprehension. His father Keith said last month that if he could go back in time knowing what he knows now, he would still reclassify as he did, graduate, and start his college basketball career early. But that doesn’t mean he wants to relive the 2020-21 season.
The five-star recruit from Evansville Reitz High School went into the season with some draft experts believing he had a chance to be one-and-done and ended up averaging just 2.1 points in 10.2 minutes per game and shooting 25.7 percent from the field. He played just seven minutes in the season’s final two games and didn’t even appear in Indiana’s season-ending loss to Rutgers in the Big Ten tournament. There was some value in the humility that he got from the experience, but all the same, his confidence took some serious blows.
So when Archie Miller was fired, Lander entered the NCAA’s transfer portal. And when Woodson was hired, he didn’t immediately promise that he’d withdraw from it when Woodson asked in a team meeting who he could count on to return. Lander wanted to stay, his father said, but he didn’t want to commit to doing so until he was sure he and Woodson fit together.
“Coach Woodson said he knew he had some work to do when he asked who was all in,” Khristian’s father Keith Lander said. “Khristian wasn’t one of the ones who raised his hand. He said he understood, but he knew he had work to do.”
The work got done, however, on Monday, when Woodson met with Lander and his parents. In that meeting, Woodson made it clear there was a place for the speedy point guard in the NBA-style offense Woodson plans to bring to Bloomington after 24 years as an assistant and head coach in the league.
Keith Lander stopped in Bloomington for the meeting on his way to Michigan for a work trip and said within five minutes he knew that Khristian would and should stay.
“Coach Woodson just seemed to answer all the questions correctly,” Keith said. “If I was giving him a test or something, he answered all the questions like I thought that he should if Khristian should stay there. After it was over, we went and had lunch and just looked at each other and said, ‘Well, he’s staying.'”
The Landers liked Woodson’s personality to start with — “He’s just a regular guy, but at the same time unapologetic, this is what it is, straight to the point, but at the same time real humble,” Keith said. But more importantly they liked the vision he had for Khristian’s game.
Woodson told them about the four-out, one-in offense he wanted to employ and what he would ask his point guards to do. He showed them film of NBA point guards getting ball screens early in shot clocks on secondary break action and creating offense out of those, and continuing to run those actions to give ball-handlers space to work.
“Me and my wife were watching the video and saying ‘That’s exactly what Khristian used to do,'” Keith said. “That’s why he ended up being what he was because he did that kind of stuff. We both looked at each other and I said something to him while the film was going on. I said, ‘Khristian can do that. That’s what he does.'”
For much of this season, Lander didn’t look like the same player who averaged 21 points a game as a junior at Reitz and 23.2 as a sophomore. He had a handful of moments when he sliced through defenses and whipped passes to the corners, and he recorded 30 assists in 26 games. However, he had breakdowns on defense, especially early in the season, and he struggled to shoot the ball no matter where he was shooting from. Of the 18 field goals he made, 12 came from beyond the 3-point arc, but those came on 44 attempts, which put him at 27.3 percent from 3. He was 6 of 26 from 2-point range (23.1 percent). He had problems making layups, and according to hoop-math.com, he made just two of his 10 attempts at the rim.
According to kenpom.com, Lander was by far Indiana’s least efficient player with an offensive rating of 69.7, an effective field goal percentage of 34.3 percent and a true shooting percentage of 37.3 percent. No one else had an offensive rating under 89 or an eFG% under 41.
“I just feel that was what was wrong this year was just the confidence,” Keith Lander said. “The goal didn’t get taller from high school to college. He had wide-open shots and he’s shooting airballs. Something was just not right. If we can get that confidence thing going I think you’ll see a lot get better off of that alone. You have to have some tweaks too because he turns his feet sideways when he shoots. But just a couple of tweaks, man, he’ll be right back to being the kind of kid he was in high school. He’s already getting stronger. It’s just about him getting back to not thinking so much on the court. Just playing the game.”
Keith believes Woodson’s offense will allow him to think less and trust his instincts more. With Al Durham transferring to Providence, he should have an opportunity for more minutes, as he has shown he can play with fellow point guard Rob Phinisee on the floor at the same time.
“He doesn’t want somebody bouncing the ball 10 times at the top of the key calling sets,” Keith said of Woodson. “We were watching the video saying, ‘That’s what we think it should look like.’ We didn’t have that this year for whatever reason. He wants his guards to be more in attack mode. Making plays, dropping it down to the bigs when the defense collapses. He wants his point guards to initiate things and not be in sets all the time.”
Keith said his son was pleased to finally have the process over with and know where he’ll be for his second season in college basketball.
“Relief,” Keith said. “Just a sense that he doesn’t have to start all the way over. He’s already started his college career with the classes, and his friends. His stuff is here. He’s assured that he doesn’t have to go anywhere else because the coach here wants him. He’s happy.”
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