BLOOMINGTON – The games won't go away. The failure still burns. Of course it does. Yogi Ferrell is a proud player. He has thrived almost from the first moment he picked up a basketball. Adversity won't define him, but drive him.
The best players succeed because they fail, and Ferrell has every intention of succeeding in his Indiana sophomore season. He will do it with better outside shooting and better leadership. He will do it because he works at it.
And because he cares.
“I'm always in the gym getting up extra shots,” he says. “That was a point of emphasis after the way last season ended. I'm always in the gym, before or after practice, getting extra shots up. I'm going to continue to do that.
“That has to be a focus for a point guard. That's the No. 1 think I work on. I'm getting to a point where it's becoming more consistent. I'm more confident. I'm not as hesitant.”
Ferrell has dominated, led and, most importantly, won. He won in high school and in travel ball and everywhere in between. Last year as a freshman he was Indiana's starting point guard, averaging 7.6 points and 4.1 assists, an impressive feat for one so young on a veteran, talented team that was ranked No. 1 for 10 weeks and won an outright Big Ten championship.
And yet …
In his last two college games, against Temple and Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament, Ferrell was an offensive no-show. He didn't score in 54 minutes, going 0 for 4 from the field. He had four assists and seven turnovers, unacceptable numbers for a point guard.
Ferrell was mostly a three-point non-factor last season, shooting 30.3 percent beyond the arc. Teams often dared him to shoot from the perimeter and, at times, he made them pay.
The Hoosiers thrived that way because they were, behind Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford and Victor Oladipo, one of the nation's best three-point shooting teams. Those players are gone. Ferrell is among the Hoosiers who must replace that perimeter scoring.
“He's worked hard on his shot, not to have to take more shots, but make a higher percentage of them,” associate head coach Steve McClain says. “People are going to see he's really improved it.”
But for Ferrell, it goes beyond shooting.
“He has to make certain he makes the guys around him better rather than trying to carry the load himself,” associate head coach Tim Buckley says. “The more he can make the other guys better, the better we will be as a team.”
Coach Tom Crean is emphatic about that.
“The No. 1 thing with Yogi is, will he be demanding enough of himself and of his teammates to keep taking steps?
“Yogi has got tremendous gifts. He's got great speed. His shot is getting better all the time, and he wasn't a bad shooter last year (40.3 percent overall). Some of it got hidden because of how good a shooting team we were.
“We need him to (score from three-point range), but we don't need anybody to become, 'That's all he does is shoot threes.' I'm not saying that's what Yogi is, but we don't need that.”
Making other players better means being demanding of them. Leadership isn't all encouragement. On IU's unbeaten 1976 national title team, the person players most feared wasn't fiery coach Bob Knight, but focused point guard Quinn Buckner.
Of course, that was a different era. Now you lead with a relentless ability to move on to the next play. Ferrell drives that message hard to IU's six freshmen.
“When some of the young guys get down, you pick them up, smack them on the (behind) and say, 'Next play.' You get them involved.”
That was a lesson Ferrell learned playing on Team USA in last summer's World University Games in Russia. The U.S. didn't medal after going 6-2 with losses to Canada and Australia.
“Trying to lead some other of the top college guys was a little difficult at times,” Ferrell says. “If I had led them a little quicker, we'd have gotten where we wanted to get. We didn't, but that experience was great.”
The key is to turn that experience into Indiana wins. The Hoosiers have their first exhibition game Saturday night against the University of Southern Indiana, a perennial NCAA Division II power. They have another exhibition Nov. 4 against Hillsdale College before opening their season Nov. 8 against Chicago State.
Unlike last year, IU is not considered a Big Ten or national contender. Besides Ferrell and senior swingman Will Sheehey, last year's conference sixth man of the year, there is little experience. But just like last year, the championship goals remain.
“We have to play more together and jell more together before we can have that confidence,” Ferrell says.
It starts, but certainly doesn't end, with Ferrell.