Sports are full of nicknames. You had Magic Johnson and Thomas “Hitman” Hearns and Walter “Sweetness” Payton and Roger “The Rocket” Clemens. Those names reflected a trait, such as Johnson's ability to work magic with a basketball, Hearns' ability to knock guys out, Clemens' blazing fastball and Payton's sweet running moves.
Then there's Ferrell, a super-quick freshman point guard set to supercharge Indiana's already high-octane offense. His game is about as far from resembling a tank as you could get. And yet, for now at least, that's Ferrell's new name courtesy of assistant coach Kenny Johnson.
“I don't know where he got that from,” Ferrell says.
Guard Victor Oladipo has an idea.
“He's a little fast guy,” he says. “We call him 'Tank' because he moves so fast. He doesn't know how to slow down.”
And if tanks only move fast if they're pulled by, say, a jet, well, let's not quibble over details. There are basketball games to win and championships to earn, staring with No. 1 Indiana's season opener against Bryant on Friday.
Ferrell was recruited to be the catalyst. He is a 6-foot, 178-pound blur who can break presses, penetrate defense and get the ball to the open guy. He is, in short, the kind of true point guard the Hoosiers haven't had since, perhaps, Isiah Thomas.
“He's going to have a huge impact on why we win,” Oladipo says. “You could tell from first day. He's ready. I've watched him grow. He's gotten stronger. He's gotten smarter. His confidence is higher.
“Now we'll see how he does when the lights are on.”
If that seems a challenge that could rattle an ordinary freshman, well, there's nothing ordinary about Ferrell, starting with his passion to wear the Cream and Crimson.
“I've been waiting for this day since I committed to Indiana my junior year,” he says. “I finally get a chance to play with guys I've been watching for a couple of years. It's a great honor. I know what they expect from me. I want to do the best of my ability.”
Ferrell was rated among the nation's top three point guards as a high school senior from Indianapolis Park Tudor, and hasn't disappointed in practice.
“Yogi is a special player,” coach Tom Crean says. “We knew that when we recruited him, and he has done nothing to make us believe anything less.
“He continues to get better. He's a very hard-nosed player. His energy is very good. He has a gift of vision. It's incredible. He has a tenacity about him. The players have great respect for him because they know he is talented and know he will deliver the ball.”
Ferrell figures to deliver plenty to All-America forward Cody Zeller. They played with each other on the AAU circuit.
“We know each other well,” Zeller says, “and I think it will transfer over to the court.”
Ferrell can score, but that's not his top priority, and he knows it.
“I'm trying to be the No. 1 point guard. That's what I want to prove myself as. I feel like I'll go as far as my teammates take me. When I'm on the court, I'm always looking to pass first.
“I know Vic is always filling the lanes. I'm looking for him. I'm looking for Cody. I'm looking for all the guys. Let them finish for me. It makes me feel good when they finish because we're making each other look good.”
Crean downplays talk that Ferrell will take minutes from veteran guard Jordan Hulls. They both started in last week's exhibition win over Indiana Wesleyan.
“We're going to do a lot of things with our team,” Crean says. “It's not about their competition. When you have the team we have and the number of players we have, you can do a lot of different things. There will be times they play together and times they don't.”
Adds Ferrell: “When we're on the court at the same time, I tell (Hulls) when I drive to space out. I'm always looking for him. If (a defender) leaves him, that's a bad thing for them because I'm going to find (Hulls) for sure. He can definitely knock down the jumper.”
Ferrell gave a hint of his potential against Indiana Wesleyan. He totaled eight points, four assists, four rebounds, four turnovers and one steal.
The assist-to-turnover ratio must improve, as does his defense. Ferrell is good, but he is far from a finished project.
“He really tries to get better at what he needs to,” Crean says. “He really works on his defense every day. There is no question that if he continues to improve, he will be an outstanding player here.”
A tank, you see, is hard to stop.
Up nextTipoff: Bryant at Indiana, 8 p.m. Friday
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