BLOOMINGTON – When five-star Evansville Reitz point guard Khristian Lander decided in May 2020 to forgo his senior year of high school and enroll at Indiana a year early, it seemed as though the Hoosiers might have found the true point guard that had been missing in Bloomington since Yogi Ferrell graduated in 2016.
But Lander, undersized and just 18 years old through the entire 2020-21 season, struggled in his first season at IU, drifting in and out of the rotation and committing 26 turnovers against 30 assists.
In the program's first offseason under coach Mike Woodson, the Hoosiers, who face Jackson State tonight at Assembly Hall, brought in Xavier Johnson to steady the point guard position and planned to give Lander mop-up minutes behind Johnson and senior Rob Phinisee, with an eye toward the future.
“I can't help but think the sky is the limit for this young man, he's just gotta be willing to work. He's got to be pushed in that area and taught how to play harder and learn the college game,” Woodson said of Lander in the offseason. “He's still got a long way to go.”
With Phinisse out Sunday against Louisiana with a leg injury, Lander played 24 minutes, dishing a career-high six assists, scoring nine points and grabbing six rebounds. After a year of adjustment, he might be ahead of schedule.
“It was perfect,” Woodson said of Lander's performance Sunday. “Again, I've always said 'next man up.' Yeah, he hasn't played a lot, but he was ready to play. I thought he gave us some positive minutes, did a lot of good things on both ends of the floor. ... We just got to get him running our ball club a little bit better and taking pride in not turning the ball over.”
Lander did commit four turnovers. But he was far from the only Hoosier to struggle taking care of the ball: Indiana committed 27 turnovers.
The left-handed sophomore did, however, display his excellent court vision in transition and his ability to finish difficult shots around the rim. Woodson's commitment to running a wide-open offense that maximizes his players' creativity seems to suit Lander.
“I just feel like he's given us the freedom to do what we do, so the offense is free flowing,” Lander said. “I feel like I know how to play basketball, so I feel like if I play off my teammates and we play together, then everything is going to come together.”
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound guard has put on significant muscle since last season, which has helped him improve in the area of his game that needed the most work: defense. After looking out of place at times at that end of the court last season, Lander was noticeably more adept at staying in front of his man Sunday and had two steals.
He credited his work in practice with preparing him for the physical rigors of games.
“I just feel like I've gotten stronger, gotten I think a little bit faster,” Lander said. “So I just feel like especially going against Rob and X (Johnson), they're pretty fast and strong guards, so I feel like going against them every day has helped a whole lot.”
With Phinisee ailing, the Hoosiers might need Lander to play big minutes in the coming days or weeks. Even if the senior guard returns sooner rather than later, Lander has rediscovered the promise that made his arrival so exciting 18 months ago.
vs. Jackson State
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Assembly Hall, Bloomington
Records: IU (4-0), Jackson State (0-4)
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 92.3 FM
• No. 1 South Carolina women top No. 2 UConn; roundup