Noah Vonleh is not a basketball savior in the manner of, say, Cody Zeller.
For one thing, Indiana doesn't need that from the incoming freshman. After consecutive Sweet 16 appearances, and with the return of potential All-Big Ten players Yogi Ferrell (who has improved his shooting, the one glaring weakness from last year) and Will Sheehey, the Hoosiers are beyond that point.
At least, they'd better be.
For another thing, it's unfair to burden Vonleh with Zeller achievements and talent, which are almost certain to make him an NBA draft lottery pick in a couple of weeks.
Still, the 6-8, 222-pound Vonleh brings an impressive resume that includes McDonald's All-America and top-10 Class of 2013 player status. Vonleh, who is from Massachusetts, is already in Bloomington working out with coach Tom Crean and his staff.
Vonleh has made a good early impression.
“I love his work ethic right now,” Crean said. “There's no question when you see him spread out on the court and go athletically … we did some 2 on 2 and right away we got a chance to see where we can make him better.”
That includes making Vonleh guard the perimeter as well as the post. Versatility remains Crean's mantra and he's not going to abandon it just because he's lost four starters.
“What we'll do with him is the same thing we did with Cody last spring and summer and have him guard perimeter guys as much as inside, probably more so. That helps him get that athleticism on the perimeter he's going to need defensively.”
Vonleh combines guard and forward skills, and has the size to maximize both. The key is adjusting to the college game, Crean's system and facing some of America's best players every day.
“He is such a sponge for wanting to get better and learn,” Crean said. “We don't have enough guys right now to be playing 5 on 5, but it will be a lot of fun to watch him do that when the time comes.”
Because of graduation (Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford, Derek Elston), transfers (guard Remy Abell left for Xavier; Maurice Creek left for George Washington), injuries (guard Austin Etherington, forward Peter Jurkin) and players leaving for the NBA (Zeller, Victor Oladipo), IU had just four players to work with in Sheehey, Ferrell, Jeremy Hollowell and Hanner Mosquera-Perea. And Ferrell and Sheehey will be gone to participate in the World University Games team training camp later this month in Colorado. They will try to make the U.S. team that will compete in Russia next month.
“It was hard,” Crean said about only being able to work out a few players. “We had a good spring. The good news is we knew they were working. What we were giving up a little is conditioning, but you shouldn't be giving up the strength factor or the developing factor.
“Watching Yogi, there's no question he's been working. No question. We'll get back after it with him.”
Sheehey has been gone on a family vacation to Ireland. Other players took similar breaks before beginning the eight weeks of summer workouts with coaches allowed by the NCAA.
“We're not disappointed that they were gone,” Crean said. “It was good for them mentally and physically to get a break.”
Crean continues to push the be-competitive theme. It's a big reason, he said, for the Hoosiers' recent success. It's a theme he'll hammer home with the six incoming freshmen -- Vonleh, Luke Fischer, Devin Davis, Collin Hartman, Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson. The rest of the freshmen start arriving today.
“We've won 56 games over the last two years because we had a highly competitive team that put winning first,” Crean said. “We've lost so much of that (as far as personnel) -- 67 percent of the minutes are gone, 75 percent of the points are gone, 70-some percent of the free throws are gone.
“That stuff is wide open. This isn't a situation where you just have it (playing time) bestowed on you. You have to earn it. That's what we're looking forward to -- the competitiveness of this.”
Crean's competitiveness ensured he maximized the month of May even without most of the players around.
“We got a lot of film work done. We got a lot of recruiting work as far as laying the groundwork for the future.
“With all the youth and inexperience we have, we're really breaking down all the teaching. Our job is to push that learning curve. How quick can they pick things up? When you have youth and inexperience, it should give you an opportunity to grow pretty fast.”
The Big Ten again figures to be brutally strong, with Michigan State and Michigan looming as early favorites.
“As I watch more film, there are a lot of teams in this league with a lot of guys coming back,” Crean said. “We'll be behind in that area. How quick can we learn? How competitive can we be? How quick and athletic can we play are things I'm excited to see.”