FORT WAYNE – Indiana won four of five exhibition games on its recently concluded preseason trip to Canada.
Hoosiers coach Tom Crean said the experience was beneficial because his players saw a lot of different defensive strategies and were able to build an early cohesion.
They learned a lot the whole trip mentally and physically, Crean said. We had to play very physical, and it gives us a great indication of who needs what (and) of what we need to spend time in the fall on to prepare for. Getting a feel for one another for this type of youth on this team is very, very good for us.
Perhaps the most prominent part of the foreign excursion, allowed by the NCAA once every four years, is that it provided an early look at a pair of touted incoming freshmen shooting guards in game situations.
Crean liked what he saw out of former Bishop Luers standout James Blackmon Jr. In the final two outings, he had one performance of 21 points and five rebounds and another with 20 points.
He is a tremendous pull-up jump shooter, Crean said. He has such a gift of scoring and shooting and feel for the game that his passing will get better. His decision-making will get better but his ball-handling and explosion game has to continue to get better. That will come, and it will be pretty impressive when it does.
Blackmon learned something about this year’s roster that, watching from afar, he didn’t think was present a season ago.
I think we are a more vocal team this year, he said. This trip really helped us. Yogi (Ferrell) and I are really talking to each other about where we want the ball and getting together is going to be our strength.
Meanwhile, fellow recruit Robert Johnson posted 17 points in the final game and averaged just shy of double figures on the tour.
We wanted him to press a little bit, to be more out of his comfort zone and be someone who brings more commands to his teammates, Crean said of Johnson. You’re always trying to put guys in uncomfortable situations for themselves so that they can become good in those. That was one of the great-added bonuses of this trip.