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COLUMN

Indiana's Ferrell plays to the hype

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Tipoff: Indiana at Penn State, 7 p.m. Monday
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TV: BTN

Online: For more on Indiana athletics, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at pdiprimio.

Freshman looms large in Hoosier plans

Saturday, January 5, 2013 - 8:46 am

BLOOMINGTON –- Yogi Ferrell insists from the media spotlight that he is 6-foot tall. Confirmation comes from the Indiana roster, and if that sometimes lacks Ten Commandments sanctity, let's not quibble over details.

Teammate Victor Oladipo doesn't.

“For someone so short, I don't know how he sees the court,” Oladipo says from that same spotlight, “but he does a great job of it.”

Point guard greatness, it seems, means a teammate's good-natured ribbing.

“I've known him since he was in high school coming in for open gym,” Oladipo says. “He's gotten a little bigger. Not any taller, but …

“I'm 6-foot,” Ferrell says. “Don't say that.”

“… He's better as a player,” Oladipo says, unfazed by Ferrell's interruption. “He's better in games. He's better as days goes on.”

We are 14 games into Ferrell's college freshman season, including one Big Ten road contest, and he has played to the hype. He has 75 assists (20 more than any other Hoosier) against 30 turnovers. He averages 6.6 points and 3.4 rebounds. He shoots 83.3 percent from the line.

Add to that, he plays defense beyond his years, pushes the pace to maximize the Hoosiers' full-throttle attack and bounces back fast from mistakes.

“He has been tremendous, he really has,” coach Tom Crean says. “He just keeps getting better and better.

“He's an incredible worker. He has joined that, no-matter-what-time-practice-ends, no-matter-how-long-practice-was club. He is still going to be out there working on his ball-handling and his shooting, and that's not easy.

“It's one thing to do it once in a while. Most people do it once in a while. He does it every day. It is paying off.”

Ferrell shrugs off such praise. He understands, on a veteran team with national championship aspirations, the benefits of deferring glory.

“My teammates do a great job of moving and running with me,” he says. “Guys know I'm looking to pass the ball. They find great openings for me. I just dish it off to them.”

What, you were expecting Muhammad Ali brashness?

Ferrell has been nationally hyped since he was 10 years old. His Indiana Elite teams won championships. He led Indianapolis Park Tudor to a pair of state titles. He was considered, depending on the recruiting service, either the nation's No. 2 or No. 3 point guard coming out of high school.

He has delivered.

Ferrell had 10 assists and no turnovers against Jacksonville, but that was not the real world. The Big Ten opener at Iowa was a more accurate barometer of Ferrell's ability and he had four assists and three turnovers.

Consider his numbers against the five true tests on the IU schedule (Georgia, Georgetown, North Carolina, Butler and Iowa): 22 assists and 13 turnovers. He had 12 points and eight rebounds against Butler. He had 14 points against Georgetown.

“I love it,” senior guard Jordan Hulls says about being on the court at the same time as Ferrell. “He's done a great job of not turning it over and finding people at the right time. He gets a lot of movement on the floor.”

Ferrell was a dynamic high school scorer whose shooting has struggled -– 34.6 percent from the field, 27.3 percent from three-point range -– against college defenses, but on a team with five double-figure scorers, that's not a problem.

“His rate of improvement is high because his coach-ability, his learn-ability … it's all right there and it's only going to get better,” Crean says.

Ferrell's next Big Ten opportunity comes Monday at Penn State, and he figures to loom large in the outcome even if he doesn't by the tape measure.

As he leaves the spotlight, he is met by Hulls, another 6-footer by IU's generous roster standards.

“Us short guys have to stick together,” Hulls says with a smile.

Their fist-bump seals the deal.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.