Indiana basketball begins practice for the 2019-20 season this week. The Hoosiers are trying to snap a string of three straight seasons without an NCAA Tournament bid as coach Archie Miller enters his third season at the helm. Indiana has not missed the tournament four years in a row since a five-year drought from 1968-72, just at the end of the pre-Bob Knight Era (Knight's first season was in 1972).
If the Hoosiers are to improve upon their 19-16 record from a year ago and return to the tournament, they will likely need plenty of contributions from newcomers Trayce Jackson-Davis and Armaan Franklin (the freshmen) and Butler transfer Joey Brunk. Miller said Wednesday at his introductory press conference that he's been pleased with the progress of that trio as the players integrate themselves into the team.
"Those three guys fit in seamlessly," Miller said. "They've been a pleasant surprise not only from the summertime, but also as we've started school here. No. 1, how much they're embracing the challenge of joining the group, and also embracing the challenge of striving to be the better players on our team, the better leaders. They're not waiting around to learn."
These are some of the other highlights from Miller's first press conference of the season.
On how this team can build better chemistry than the team from a year ago:
"One thing that's unique as you get older, as you have more familiarity with each other, you have more closeness. You're not as new. Last year's team had five true freshman and one transfer, so six new bodies. This team has two true freshman and one new guy. Those older guys are all back and they're more familiar with one another, with the routine, and they're more able to communicate what to do, when to do it, how to do it.
"So there has definitely been some step-up in that regard. I definitely think our team understands from a staff perspective there is a lot of pressure on us as a group of people to really come together. To do that, I think definitely more talking, more communicating, and more situations where we're forcing them to be sort of the driving force behind that. We do have a group of guys that naturally are kind of quiet-natured. I think that's where Joey (Brunk) has been a great boost with his voice. His personality has really (helped) our workouts, our locker room.
"The younger guys who've got a year under their belt have changed. Robert (Phinisee) has done a really nice job in our workouts. He's taken a concerted effort to communicate better, talk better, not be quiet."
On how the Hoosiers tried to get better at shooting in the offseason:
"The quality of shots you get is the key. The guys that are shooting the ball and where they are shooting it from, how they're getting them, those are the good ones. If that's the case, we have confidence in making them. Like I said this team is built a little bit differently. Our versatility is more inside-out than it is outside-in. I do think we have some guys that are going to have to stretch the floor for us to be effective, and that starts with our back court.
"Our perimeter guys have to shoot it in, we'll have to find some other guys that can find that niche. Damezi (Anderson) is a guy we have some hope for in that regard. As a sophomore, he's going to have to have a role on our team. One of the best things that Damezi does is he can shoot the ball. You got to start with that with him. Hopefully adding Jerome (Hunter) into our mix here a little bit as we get started with the flow of the season. Jerome's best gift as a young player will be his outside shooting."
On the status of Jerome Hunter, who missed all of 2018-19 with a leg injury:
"We've listened to doctors, trainers, and Jerome has done his part. He's worked very, very hard to get cleared, and then when he was cleared he did a very good job fighting through the not playing, the rust, getting his legs back under him, his strength, his conditioning And we're proud of where he started at five weeks ago. As he started here in this five weeks, as he leads into October, he hasn't missed a workout.
"He hasn't been (completely) comfortable with all that being said. He doesn't obviously look to be the full strength Jerome we inherited as he came off high school season, but that's natural with any guy that's taken six, seven months off. He's got to get his legs under him, get his basketball game back in terms of rhythm, catching, running, contact all of a sudden.
"He's bigger and stronger, yet he's not playing as strong as he once was. I think all that is going to come with repetition of being out there every day. We're hopeful. One day at time. We work with him every day. Communication is always the most important thing. I suspect there will be some days he doesn't feel as good as the other guys as well. We're all very, very hopeful."
On whether Trayce Jackson-Davis, the 2019 Indiana Mr. Basketball, can make an immediate impact:
"Yeah, no question. Trayce is going to have to earn it the old fashioned way by doing it every day, but he's doing that right now. Very, very proud of him in terms of what he's done this summer and how he's embraced the off-season. He's gotten himself in terrific shape as of right now. He's got to continue to go with that. His athleticism, his conditioning, are all very, very impressive. He's a gifted young guy and he's coachable.
"He's a guy that sponges it up. He doesn't know what he doesn't know, and he asks questions. He's improved as a player, but he's going to go through some really hard times. I feel like college basketball is harder for young bigs than it is guards because they're not used to the pounding and the size, and, in some cases in the Big Ten, the age difference.
"So he'll go through that, but he's going to be put in the fire. He was brought here to be put in the fire, and he can help our team immensely. I think as you watch us play he's got some confidence in him. The more experience he gets under his belt the better he'll be."
On how big men Jackson-Davis, Brunk and De'Ron Davis will fit together in the rotation:
"How these guys find that niche, will be their ability to defend together. That's obviously the hardest part for two bigs on the floor. It's not offense. You can run a lot of different types of offense, especially when you have some guys who can score the ball down low. But could they play together and defend a team who doesn't play traditional with bigs? That will be the quest. Can those guys exist on that end of the floor a little bit?
"Very, very hopeful. Very, very hopeful with Trayce. His lateral mobility, athleticism, and watching him here early as the season goes, he knows he has to defend on the perimeter. He's going to have to do that to be able to play with other guys. He's going to have to learn early and probably go through some hard times getting used to guarding college actions and scouting and whatnot.
"But for the betterment of him and our team, that's one thing I think that we're all hopeful for, is he can take that role as a guy who can defend inside and out a little bit. He's not a prototype typical big. He's very mobile, athletic, he's got great endurance for a young player. He's just going to have to get some experience under his belt."