BLOOMINGTON –- Can you keep a secret? Can you? We have Christian Watford under the investigative spotlight. Indiana's senior forward has to give it up, or else.
No, he's not about to reveal the location of the Fountain of Youth or the Ark of the Covenant. It's WAY bigger than that. It's the key about what will make him, at last, the complete player coach Tom Crean envisioned when signing him.
Rebound the darn ball.
Consider the facts.
Watford is 6-9 and 232 pounds. He has averaged 13.4 points and 5.7 rebounds for his career. His best rebounding average came as a freshman, at 6.0. He was also a better offensive rebounder as a newcomer, grabbing 60 in 31 games, while getting 42 in 36 games last season.
Yes, last year's arrival of forward Cody Zeller had something to do with the decline. Still, given IU's expected uptempo offense, there will be plenty of shots taken, and missed. Watford might as well get his rebounding share.
“I want to rebound a lot better,” he says. “I want to do that at a consistent level. That's what I've been working on, constantly getting reps.”
So how do you rebound better? Effort and blocking out are important, but you need more than that.
“There's an art to it,” Watford says. “You've got to master that art. It's a little bit of technique and the way you do it, and a little bit of constantly going every time. That's what I've been working on.
“And a lot of film watching.”
The film reveals the secret.
“If the shot is from the left side of the court,” Watford says, “then most of the time, like 85 percent, the ball is going to come off to the right. So you've got to pick your spots and go to your spots.”
If Watford hits those spots with the desired consistency, he might achieve after his senior season what he'd hoped to do after his junior year.
Get drafted by a NBA team.
Watford considered leaving early last spring after a season highlighted by his Kentucky beating three-pointer and IU's Sweet 16 run. But talking to NBA scouts convinced him his best option was to return for a final college season, which could include a national championship.
“I felt I wanted to finish it,” he says. “I felt we left some stones unturned. We can definitely get it. That was the main reason for me coming back.”
Watford showed big improvement on defense. He was versatile enough to handle point guards as well as inside players.
Will he defend point guards again this season?
“I'm sure I'll be doing that. I'll be guarding a lot of people.”
That includes such quick point guards as Michigan's Trey Burke and Penn State's Tim Frazier, who can blow past bigger players in the blink of an eye.
“You've got to change your mindset,” Watford says. “You have to take angles. I have to use my leverage. It takes some getting used to, but you can do it.
“Once they get the ball, you want to crowd them, but don't crowd them to the point where they can go right past you. Like I said, you have to play the angles.”
That Watford has at last figured out those angles, that he's now playing with the intensity and consistency to match his coach's demands entering Thursday night's exhibition against Indiana Wesleyan, positions him for the kind of season IU will need to meet national title expectations.
“Christian shows what happens when you continue to improve,” Crean says. “He went from a 32 percent (three-point shooter) as a (freshman) to a 44 percent shooter as a junior, and much of the year he hovered around the 50 percent mark.
“The biggest thing for Christian this year, if our team is going to get better, is he needs to model the consistency day in, day out, that he needs to be, to be at his best, which he is fully capable of.”