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IU's Vonleh is the real basketball deal

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Tipoff: LIU-Brooklyn at Indiana, 6 p.m., Tuesday
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Freshman debuts with double-double

Saturday, November 9, 2013 - 8:35 am

BLOOMINGTON – So this is the real Noah Vonleh.

The Indiana freshman forward rebounds at a monster rate. He runs the break. He blocks shots. He is perfect from the free throw line.

Let's repeat that -- he's perfect from the free throw line.

That guy who bumbled his way at the exhibition free throw line was an imposter. The real deal was really good in Friday night's 100-72 season-opening win over Chicago State.

Vonleh's college debut produced 14 rebounds and 11 points. Perhaps most impressive, he was 5-for-5 from the free throw line, a stunning turnaround given he was 0-for-8 in two exhibition games.

“He spends more time in the gym working his free throws than anyone,” coach Tom Crean said. “It was great to see him rewarded for that.”

Added Vonleh: “I told myself to calm down, focus on the shot and I'll make them. Before I felt I was rushing.”

At 6-10 and 240 pounds, Vonleh does not need to rush -- except when he's pushing down the court. There is time to develop and grow. IU's schedule opens in Assembly Hall comfort. There are three more home games -- next up, LIU Brooklyn on Tuesday -- before the Hoosiers head to New York City's Madison Square Garden and challenges with Washington and, perhaps, No. 18 Connecticut.

Vonleh almost certainly will be ready. His work ethic gives him an edge. Plus, he has a NBA body and, as teammates jokingly attest, a NBA face. He looks a decade older than his 18 years.

But his game is far more than appearance. For instance, he is not the prototype fast-break-leading player. And yet, on multiple occasions Friday night, he did just that.

Crean said he's “very comfortable” with Vonleh bringing the ball up after defensive rebounds as long as he's “Looking up the floor.”

“When you do that, you become harder to guard,” Crean said. “When you become harder to guard, you get to the free throw line more.”

Vonleh has bought into that.

“I brought the ball up a lot in high school. Coach Crean wants me to be really versatile. He said, 'Whoever gets the ball, just push it up the court.'”

Vonleh arrived in Bloomington with a huge burden of potential. He was a McDonald's All-American and the No. 1 recruit in a top-10 recruiting class. He was, in some ways, more heralded than former Hoosier Cody Zeller. Vonleh was rated in the top 10 nationally. Zeller was a top-15 prospect.

Vonleh showed in summer workouts, and then the preseason practices, that his game matched the hype.

"He’s a force down low," guard Yogi Ferrell said. "He has ability to pass out of the post to a 3-point shooter or a cutter or score himself. He can have the presence Cody did last year -- not his experience, but his knowledge of the game. Even as a freshman his presence is higher than I expected. He’ll be a key to our success."

Zeller's college debut, against Stony Brook, produced 16 points and 10 rebounds. He went on to twice earn All-America honors before leaving school after his sophomore season and being the No. 4 overall pick in last summer's NBA draft.

While Vonleh's first game was comparable, it did not represent the peak of his potential. For one thing, he made only three of 10 shots. For another, he left plays on the court.

Yes, Crean noticed.

“He had 14 rebounds and he's not going to grade out at a high level,” he said. “One of the reasons I made a quick sub in the second half is he and (Jeremy Hollowell) just stood when Troy Williams missed a layup.

“When he learns to go every time, when he learns how efficient he can be around the bucket, he's going to shoot a lot of free throws because he's going to get fouled on the break. He's going to get fouled on the glass. He's going to get fouled on post-ups and cuts.”

Vonleh understands all that. He also understands what it takes to get where he wants to go. It's what he's done. It's what he's always done.

“I'm going to keep working hard and getting better.”

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