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  • Newkirk

Tuesday, October 25, 2016 10:02 pm

He's not next Ferrell, but could run offense

Chris Goff | The Journal Gazette

BLOOMINGTON – While at Pittsburgh, Josh Newkirk experienced Assembly Hall as a visiting player. The way he remembers it, he felt chills just walking into the storied arena.

Now, two seasons later, he is trying to replace an Indiana legend, Yogi Ferrell, as the point guard of the Hoosiers.

"Coming here, nothing like this, nothing," said Newkirk, who arrived last year but was ineligible because of transfer rules.

As for replacing Ferrell, the beloved figure in a program’s rebirth, the winner who made two trips to the Sweet 16 and the team captain who finished his career with a school-record 633 assists, Newkirk doesn’t really look at it that way.

"I don’t," Newkirk said. "I hear that a lot (concept of replacing Ferrell), but I don’t take heed. I am my own guy."

Who will run the Hoosiers’ offense? It’s been the biggest mystery of training camp.

Four-fifths of the starting lineup seems to be set in stone: Thomas Bryant, OG Anunoby, Robert Johnson and James Blackmon Jr. The uncertainty is how to fill that final spot.

The Hoosiers have only two natural point guards on the roster, Newkirk and walk-on Johnny Jager, and it’s possible neither is among coach Tom Crean’s top eight players.

Plan B: Blackmon and Johnson are wings, but given this unusual situation, Indiana has worked diligently on their ability to initiate the offense.

Crean might ultimately see the best course as starting Johnson or Blackmon out of position at the point and letting Newkirk be a top-notch backup.

That would open a starting spot for Juwan Morgan, Curtis Jones, De’Ron Davis or Freddie McSwain Jr.

"We’ll be a little different offensively," Crean said. "So that’s going to take time."

At the very least, Newkirk will be Crean’s best backup point guard in quite some time.

However, two factors work against Newkirk being a full-on starter. The first one isn’t measurable in any way but is still important to consider.

Tuesday’s exhibition game versus Hope College will mark his first since he underwent microfracture surgery on his left knee May 6, 2015.

That procedure is only done if knee cartilage is badly damaged.

Microfracture consists of small holes being drilled in the bone to stimulate the growth of scar tissue as replacement cartilage, called fibrocartilage.

The problem is history says the operation nets uncertain outcomes. Penny Hardaway, Allan Houston and Terrell Brandon were never the same.

"It was a risk," Newkirk said. "But I feel great right now. (Began to feel recovered) in January. It had to be done."

Next up? Proving he’s a better player than the one who started four times in 70 games at Pitt with career averages of 5.2 points and 2.2 assists. He shot 38 percent from the floor as a sophomore in 2014-15.

What excites Newkirk is he believes he’s better suited for Crean’s system than Pitt’s slower half-court offense.

"It’s a lot different (at IU)," Newkirk said. "We’ve got a lot more freedom to create, a lot more freedom to run."

Ferrell orchestrated it all so well the last four years that following him will be difficult.

But Newkirk could not be any more matter of fact on what he is about to face, using the phrase, "It is what it is."

"I’m trying to do what I do and not step outside of that," he said.

"We have our own strengths and weaknesses. I just let my game speak."

cgoff@jg.net