In Year 3 at South Florida, Michael Durr found his game coming together in just about every way.
The 7-foot, 250-pounder found enough shooting range to trust himself outside the paint and a smooth enough stroke at the free throw line to have no reason to fear getting fouled. He was a better rebounder, a better defender, and a more prolific scorer. Even though his field goal percentage dropped a tad, that was in part because he was more willing to take chances and step away from the rim. He finished with 8.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game, career highs in both categories and shot a career-best 79 percent at the free throw line.
But after playing his sophomore and junior seasons on sub .500 teams and with the 2020-21 season having not counted against anyone’s eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he found himself with two years of eligibility left and the desire to make the most of them. He wanted to play for a traditional basketball power that would maximize his chances at a professional career, be that in the NBA or elsewhere.
Once Indiana got involved in his recruitment, his decision was pretty easy. Durr used to play his travel ball in Atlanta, so he was on assistant coach Yasir Rosemond’s radar, and assistant Kenya Hunter coached against Durr in the American Athletic Conference when he was at Connecticut. Both of them jumped on Durr as soon as he re-entered the portal following a brief commitment to Virginia Tech. Durr announced Monday on his Twitter account that he would transfer to play for new coach Mike Woodson.
“Indiana being the program that it is, the school that it is, with all the tradition, I wanted to go somewhere where they would help me take my game to the next level,” Durr said by phone Monday evening. “Play for coaches who know the game, played the game, and just want to win and help their players succeed.”
Durr said Woodson told him his NBA-style system would give him room to explore his versatility. After taking a total of four 3-pointers in his first two seasons at South Florida, he took 20 last season and made four of them. Hitting 20 percent from 3-point range isn’t terrifying for opposing defenses, but it’s just enough to gain some respect for a five man and spread the floor. Woodson made it clear to All-American center Trayce Jackson-Davis that he will expected to take outside shots, and he made it clear to Durr that he will have freedom to shoot as well.
“He likes the fact that I can play inside and out,” Durr said of Woodson. “He wants me to take my game to the next level, play within his NBA style, show improvement from last year and help win ball games. I fit right in with what they’re trying to do. … With me being able to shoot from outside, it helps my game because you have to guard me anywhere on the floor. And it helps my teammates because if I’m out on the perimeter, you can’t just stay in.”
And because he can shoot, Durr said, Woodson told him he would put Jackson-Davis and Durr on the floor at the same time. That would seem to go against Woodson’s overall game plan of going four-out, one-in, but if one or both of them show enough perimeter comfort as shooters and ball-handlers, it would at least be possible.
“We’re definitely playing together,” Durr said. “Being a force in the Big Ten with both of us.”
Even if the minutes in which they are on the floor together are limited, he would still play a key role in providing depth behind Jackson-Davis. The Hoosiers bring in a freshman center in Logan Duncomb, a 6-foot-9, 220-pounder from Archbishop Moeller High School in Cincinnati, but they were anticipating a return from the 6-11 Joey Brunk, and he will instead play his final season at Ohio State.
Durr takes those minutes and gives the Hoosiers help on both the glass and the defensive end. He’s blocked 87 shots in three seasons and he’s improving at handling switches, which will be necessary in Woodson’s defense. He’s never averaged more than 2.7 fouls per game, so he’s generally maintained discipline.
“I want to improve on all aspects of defense,” Durr said. “I want to block more shots without fouling. I think I’m a pretty good ball screen defender and I’m pretty good at defending all kinds of guys. But I don’t want to ever get in foul trouble this year, ever, and I want to continue to show that I can defend different guys.”
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