BLOOMINGTON — Noah Vonleh gets it. At least, we've been told he gets it. Workouts remain a matter of hearing, not seeing.
No matter. Indiana's highest-profile freshman basketball player trains with an edge Hoosier coaches love. He's committed to the plan that helped turn Victor Oladipo into a NBA millionaire.
Oladipo, of course, was an unheralded freshman appreciated mainly by Hoosier coaches. Vonleh rates as one of the nation's top-10 newcomers as a McDonald's All-American. He is listed at 6-foot-9 and 235 pounds, although he says he's gained 20 pounds since arriving at IU in late May thanks to strength coach Je'Ney Jackson's program. He has all the accolades a guy could want.
But he wants more. Indiana, having lost four starters from a top-ranked Sweet 16 team, needs him to deliver more.
So he works.
Assistant coach Kenny Johnson jokes that Vonleh should put a cot in Cook Hall because he spends so much time there working out.
“If he could, he would,” Johnson says. “He's dead set on turning himself into the player he believes he can be. Maximizing his potential.”
That hits on perhaps the biggest reason why Vonleh, a Massachusetts native, chose Indiana. Seeing Oladipo and teammate Cody Zeller get picked among the top four in last month's NBA draft showcased better than any words the kind of development a player can make at IU.
“One of the main reasons I came here was Coach Crean instills development,” Vonleh says. “I like that a lot. I feel like we're all getting better.”
Vonleh is the biggest example of the year-round work philosophy that surrounds the Hoosier program. Coaches call it a culture, but by any name, Vonleh is a convert.
“I like to be in the gym all the time,” he says, “working on getting my shot better, getting better. I'll be playing against guys a lot older than me, so I need to be ready.”
Some elite recruits arrive with attitudes and high-maintenance personas that make coaching them a challenge. Not Vonleh. He instantly tapped into the gym-rat approach perfected by Oladipo, Jordan Hulls and Will Sheehey.
“His attitude is as good as anyone I've ever seen,” associate head coach Tim Buckley says, “especially for someone as highly credentialed as him. He wants to learn. He wants to get better. It's all about, what more can I do?”
What more can Vonleh do? For starters, polish his overall offensive game so he can be equally effective inside and out. Improve his ballhandling and defense. Continue his rebound-everything-in-sight attitude.
But what's gotten his attention more than anything else at IU is the strength training emphasis.
“I've been working hard in the weight room,” he says. “It's real intense. That surprised me. I wasn't used to that in high school. That was a big adjustment.
“It's helped me a lot. I can bump guys off better. I can finish stronger.”
In June Vonleh was a counselor at the LeBron James Skills Academy in Las Vegas. He was 17 years old, making him the youngest college player there. It didn't matter. He thrived against some of the nation's best talent. He asserted leadership, an attribute IU coaches stress often.
“I went there and worked really hard,” he said.
While he was there, Vonleh got pointers from ESPN analyst Jay Bilas.
“I was talking a lot (in terms of leadership) because a lot guys there really weren't,” Vonleh says. “Jay Bilas come up to me and said, 'Your leadership can become a great strength. Keep working on it.'”
Bilas also talked to Vonleh about staying low inside and making quick moves.
“Sometimes I wasn't decisive. I have to keep working on that.
“I competed. I rebounded. Rebounding is one of my biggest strengths. I scored in the post.”
He's doing the same thing in summer workouts.
“He's a real good player,” sophomore forward Jeremy Hollowell says. “The biggest thing I've seen is he's willing to learn. He's always wanting to improve his game. He's very coachable. You see how hard he works day in, day out. He'll always go hard and do his best.”
With Zeller in the NBA, and forward Christian Watford playing in summer NBA leagues with the Indiana Pacers and Dallas, and forward Derek Elston heading to Europe to play professionally, the Hoosier frontcourt will need an impact presence.
Vonleh seems set to deliver.
“Physically he's college ready,” Buckley says. “He's very strong. He's very powerful. He's very polished around the basket and explosive.
“He's going to continue to develop his perimeter. In my humble opinion, it was a great decision on his part to come here because that's what we've been able to do. That's where Cody will excel in the NBA because he was put on the perimeter to drive the ball and shoot. Those are areas (Vonleh) will continue to develop and grow.”
Oh. One last thing. Vonleh and the rest of this heralded freshman class will attack the rim when they're not defending it.
“We're all aggressive. We all go to rebound. We play hard. We fall all over the floor.
“The coaches push us and tell us to play hard. We take that into our minds and do it.”
You see. Vonleh does get it.