BLOOMINGTON –- Indiana's Derek Elston is a passionate guy, a caring guy, a guy driven to thrive in his final college season that could end with national title glory.
But he has no shooting shot.
Check that. He has it, but somewhere in the weeks of rehab following knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus, he lost it.
It happens. The spirit is willing, but sometimes the body misses the message or botches it.
Entering Monday night's game at Penn State, the 6-8 Elston is just 1-for-8 from the field, including 0-for-3 from three-point range, for a total of four points in the four games since his return. He jumps without explosiveness, and it's most noticeable with his shooting. He's short on open shots, and his frustration is palpable.
The good news –- he can regain his shooting touch. The bad news –- nobody knows when.
Tom Crean understands. Yes, he's a demanding coach, but he's also a realist. He knows Elston can help well beyond his shooting, much as teammate Jordan Hulls did during last week's 69-65 win at Iowa, when 0-for-10 shooting was countered by six assists, three rebounds, two steals and no turnovers.
“Derek had a couple of setbacks this week,” Crean says, “but (Saturday) was very good -- maybe his best day since he's been back. He played like a guy who has played a lot of games and years with his help defense and blocking out. Those are the things that he's got to do –- control what he can control. The shot going in right now might not be it.
“He can keep his man in front. He can be a help defender, be a rebounder. Those things are really important. And then the offense counts.”
The shooting struggles are a big blow because, before the October injury, Elston had positioned himself for a big college finale. As a junior he shot 55.2 percent from three-point range last season, 49.5 percent overall.
Beyond that, Elston had become a tremendous leader. He had a huge influence with freshmen forwards Peter Jurkin, Hanner Perea and Jeremy Hollowell. He even resorted to the baseball game of catch to help Jurkin with his hand-eye coordination.
Elston's biggest strength, and potentially biggest weakness, is his emotion, which is why Crean pushes reason.
“It's like what I said to him, he has to enjoy himself,” Crean says. “He can't be a guy who's really open with his teammates when he's out, like he was -- He was tremendous. It was like having another coach -- and then be really quiet when he comes back.”
Quiet comes from dwelling instead of doing.
“He's thinking this might not be going well or I'm not making this shot or that shot,” Crean says. “He can't do that. You have to play right over that.
“It's all part of that on-going dialogue that teammates have to have. Sometimes it's a pat on the back, sometimes it's being very demanding. You're engaged constantly.
“He doesn't need to be taking so much time to think what it's going to take to be better. Control what he can do right now, which are the defensive things, the rebounding things, the spacing things. Stay consistent with his habits on his shot, and he'll start knocking it down pretty quick.”
Perhaps that will happen at Penn State (8-5).
The Nittany Lions are not as formidable as Iowa, but they play with grit and energy and a sense of purpose that were showcased in last week's 60-51 loss at Wisconsin. Losing standout guard Tim Frazier to a season-ending knee injury was a huge blow, but not a crippling one.
Guards D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall have responded with career years. Newbill, a sophomore transfer from Southern Mississippi, averages a team-leading 15.5 points along with 6.3 rebounds and 51 assists. Marshall averages 14.9 points and 4.4 rebounds.
The front court is anchored by 6-6 forward Ross Travis (7.2 points, 7.7 rebounds).
“Penn State is playing extremely hard,” Crean says. “Penn State never, ever, goes away. They're talented. They miss Tim Frazier, but every game they're getting more comfortable with one another.
“They're a physical, tough team. We'll have our work cut out for us.”
It's been a week since No. 5 IU (13-1 overall, 1-0 in the Big Ten) played at Iowa. Crean says the Hoosiers used the time to work on individual and team development as well as Penn State preparation.
“We took (Friday) off and we still had about 80 percent of the team here working on their own. That's a positive. We've got great attitudes. There's a tremendous energy with this group. As much as we're trying to get better for the long haul, our whole focus will be to the next game.”