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IU freshman Williams getting it right

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Tipoff: Indiana vs. Illinois, noon, Thursday, Big Ten tourney
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Online: For more on college sports, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at www.twitter.com/pdiprimio

Big Ten honors Ferrell, Vonleh, Sheehey

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 - 6:16 am

BLOOMINGTON – Troy Williams is finally getting it right.

Indiana's 6-7 high-leaping freshman forward, always a Sportscenter highlight waiting to happen, has learned to play basketball with nuance as well as spectacle.

Well, he's mostly learned.

Williams is far from a finished product. He's still prone to the occasional glitch (see his 54 turnovers against 28 assists) to make a coach rip his way into a Dick Vitale hair style.

But Williams is much better, and winning his first Big Ten freshman of the week award reflects it.

Last week against Nebraska and Michigan, Williams averaged 17.0 points and 4.0 rebounds. He shot 71.4 percent from the field. At Michigan's Crisler Arena, he went 8-for-9 from the field for 16 points.

For the season he averages 7.2 points and 4.4 rebounds while shooting 50.0 percent from the field.

"He is letting the game come to him,” coach Tom Crean said. “He's attacking the basket and his footwork is good right now, which is the most important thing, because it's usually very good in practice, but sometimes he gets sped up a little bit in the games.

“He's doing a good job without the basketball. The key is that he continues to not try to take the ball into traffic and try to make something happen that's not there, but to look for the ball, to move well without the ball, to use the entire court.”

Williams has improved to the point where Crean is fine with playing him at the end of games. He could be a major factor when the Hoosiers (17-14) play Illinois (18-13) in Thursday's Big Ten tourney at Indianapolis' Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

“I got better as the season went on,” Williams said. “We played a lot of ranked teams at the end, and I started maturing. The games became easier.”

“Easier,” of course, does not mean easy.

Still …

"He's a guy that can run the floor at a high level,” Crean said. “He's a guy that can play out of the corners and the wings. He's getting better at handling the ball. He's getting better because his skill level continues to go up because of his work ethic. I think that's the one thing that's really jumped.

“He is spending more and more time on the court away from practice and getting better that way, which I think is really important. He's got a good spirit. He's gaining confidence all the time and we hope it can keep up the rest of the season.”

Williams isn't the only IU freshman doing that. Forward Noah Vonleh has been a double-double force for much of the season and was named Big Ten freshman of the year Monday night after averaging 11.4 points and a conference-best 9.1 rebounds. He shot 53.1 percent from the field, 51.6 percent from three-point range and 72.2 percent from the line. He was named Big Ten freshman of the week seven times.

Another freshman, Stanford Robinson, has thrived since moving into the starting lineup, and averages 6.4 points and 2.5 rebounds. And under-sized freshman forward Devin Davis has come on strong in the last few weeks.

“We're getting in gear,” Williams said. “Before we were playing our hardest, but we weren't really understanding the game. Every game we've gotten a little better IQ. We're maturing. We're learning. Now it's starting to become a habit and second nature. You can see it on the court.”

You can also see a bright future if everyone stays. As a projected lottery pick, the 6-10 Vonleh could enter the NBA draft after this season, but nothing has been announced.

“The longer the season gets,” senior Will Sheehey said, “the better they get. That's what you expect. That's what you want to see. They're all great players.”

The future even looks brigher with James Blackmon set to arrive in Bloomington this summer after a standout high school career that included three big years at Fort Wayne's Bishop Luers. He was selected to this year's Jordan Brand Classic, an annual event that features many of the nation's top high school seniors.

Blackmon is on the East roster for the April 18 New York event (Brooklyn's Barclays Center). He also will play in the McDonald's All-America game April 2 in Chicago, plus the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, Ore., on April 12.

Previous Hoosiers to have played in the Jordan Brand Classic include Vonleh (2013), Williams (2013), Eric Gordon (2007), D.J. Wright (2004), D.J. Wright (2004) and Bracey Wright (2002).

The Big Ten will have two others play in the Jordan Classic – Michigan's Kameron Chatman and Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell.

Also, IU sophomore Yogi Ferrell made second-team all-Big Ten. He averages a team-leading 17.4 points and 3.9 assists. He also averages 3.0 rebounds and leads IU in three-point shooting (40.8 percent) and free throw shooting (81.6 percent).

Senior swingman Will Sheehey made all-conference honorable mention. He set career highs in scoring (11.4) and rebounds (4.1).