Building team chemistry through vendetta. Does that sound bad? Not to incoming Indiana basketball freshman forward Bobby Capobianco.
“I took two fingers under my left eye and had my cornea scratched,” he said. “I'll get Verdell back for that at some point.”
That would be Verdell Jones, a sophomore guard who raked Capobianco's face during a recent pickup game, part of a series of summer games designed for early statement making.
“It's been brutal,” Capobianco said.
Capobianco is one of four freshmen enduring summer brutality in preparation for their Hoosier debuts. The others are forwards Christian Watford and Derek Elston, and guard Jordan Hulls. Two other freshmen, Maurice Creek and Bawa Muniru, missed summer workouts while working on gaining their academic eligibility.
In the aftermath of last year's 6-26 record, the freshmen sense opportunity for instant impact. Coach Tom Crean emphasized that deferring to their elders isn't an option.
“Coach Crean said to take it to the older guys every time we step on the floor,” Elston said. “We're trying to get our spots and make sure we have a spot. It's a big battle every day.”
Capobianco's bruised face showed how big battles can get. “We aren't guys who back down from anything,” he said. “We're competing all the time. It's not like, ‘Hey, man, you get this rebound.' People are hitting the floor and throwing each other off the court.
“Nobody said the Big Ten would be a cakewalk. It's been a good way to get us ready.”
Given that this is considered a top-10 recruiting class, and given that Crean wants to get the Hoosiers back to elite status ASAP, such competitiveness isn't a surprise.
“The older players probably feel like they have something to prove to us,” Watford said.
“We have something to prove to them. In the long run, we'll all jell together.”
In the short run, jelling comes with an edge.
“Everybody wants to play and everybody is fighting to do that,” Elston said.
“We get a little heated with each other. We say some stuff. We push and shove. But in the end, we're all friends and respect each other. We're here for the same reason - to win.”
Players also are here to work on their weaknesses, but as Watford said, “That goes out the window in games because you just want to win.”
And if the freshmen will bear a large winning burden, well, that's the price for top-10-class expectations.
“It's an awesome responsibility,” Capobianco said, “and it will take a lot of work to live up to the hype and what is asked of us. Hopefully, we'll bring a lot of great things here.”