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Basketball newcomers impressing IU’s staff

– The Indiana basketball program had plenty to figure out as it began the offseason this year.

It lost four 1,000-point scorers in Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford, Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo.

But somehow, IU coaches said in a news conference Tuesday, the team hasn’t lost its identity.

“The culture of the program has been firmly established,” IU assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Kenny Johnson said. “You want to kind of identify how quickly the guys are going to transition in and understand how hard we work in the program and what the culture of work is like in the program. They’ve come in and been very competitive – extremely competitive.”

Less than a month into summer workouts, the biggest question about next year’s Hoosiers seems to be answered.

A group of six freshmen – that Calbert Cheaney, director of basketball operations, called one of the most talented classes in IU history – has come in with a workman’s mentality.

There is no entitlement in Assembly Hall or on the practice courts in the 24-hour-access Cook Hall facility.

The most highly touted player of the bunch, top-10 forward Noah Vonleh, might as well sleep in the latter building, Johnson said.

“From Day 1 that Noah’s been here on campus, I truly believe if he could move a cot into the building right next door, he probably would,” Johnson said. “Every guy is different, but every guy has their own individual way of going about getting better. They’ve all bought in to the culture.”

Associate head coach Tim Buckley said the newcomers have competed like they’re all walk-on players, and the returnees who are in Bloomington have stepped up their leadership significantly.

Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell and Will Sheehey, the expected leaders of this group in 2013, are in Russia for the World University Games.

That’s allowed players such as Jeremy Hollowell and Hanner Mosquera-Perea, as well as others, to be more vocal.

“It helps define different roles. It doesn’t allow them to just lean on those two guys, Will and Yogi, and they’ve got to step outside of themselves a little bit,” Buckley said. “I think that’s a great advantage as you go on down the road.

“Right now, nothing’s at stake as far as winning and losing, so it gives them a chance to maybe be in different settings where they can find out exactly who they are, or who they could become.”

And that’s the question that remains – what can this group become?

The right mindset might be there now, but whether it translates to tangible results will depend on if these players want to be the next Oladipo – this year’s No. 2 overall NBA draft pick – or the next Zeller, who went at No. 4.

“Victor and Cody are the exact blueprint of how to make yourself better as a player,” Cheaney said. “It’s what you do off the floor that matters. A lot of these guys out here, our freshmen, see it. And they want to be in that position as well.”

They have all summer to try and get closer to that level. And the staff, associate head coach Steve McClain said, has accepted the challenge of getting the players there.

“I wouldn’t say the workouts are any different today than they were a year ago at this time,” McClain said. “The faces change, but it’s about coaching to the best players and bringing everybody to that level.”

smorrison@jg.net

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