Sheehey’s journey fueled by doubters

Will Sheehey hits a corner 3 against North Carolina, and the top offense in the nation punches the lead out to 31.

On the other end of the court, Indiana’s sixth man, the underrecruited, unheralded Florida native, once ranked just the No. 131 recruit in the nation by Rivals.com, fronts someone who came to the Tar Heels under a bigger spotlight: McDonald’s All-American James Michael McAdoo. Sheehey’s giving up size to the sophomore, but he knocks the ball out of McAdoo’s hands and out of bounds. Once inbounded, Sheehey and Indiana’s team defense force McAdoo into a turnover.

Two IU possessions later, the junior wing hits another 3-pointer, and he rollicks down the floor like a man possessed, banging his right middle, ring and pinky fingers against his right temple — the team’s symbol for “3″ this season.

On the ensuing Tar Heel possession, Remy Abell fouls Dexter Strickland on a made lay-in. Sheehey’s about to be subbed out for the final time on the night, but he’s not done. He re-directs his body — with purpose, mind you — to get a shoulder into Strickland and says a little something into his ear for good measure.

By the time the buzzer sounds and Sheehey leaves the court, it’s a coronation. A jawing celebration with fellow junior Victor Oladipo and a high five and some spirited words from his coach Tom Crean — with both interactions maybe featuring a colorful word or two out of Sheehey’s mouth. More high fives and jacked-up celebrations come from IU’s entire bench, as Sheehey makes his way from the coaching staff down to the last player.

He finishes the night with 19 points, five rebounds, two steals and a heck of a lot of pointing and barking and vocal leading on the court.

After the game, a veteran member of IU’s press corps asks Sheehey where all the emotion came from after that 3-pointer.

His response: “Wouldn’t you do the same thing?”

The next morning at 7 a.m., Sheehey’s in Cook Hall getting shots up.

***

“Will had a very similar role on our team that he has at Indiana,” Sagemont’s Adam Ross,  Sheehey’s high school coach, said Tuesday morning from his office in south Florida. ”He’s a high-energy guy. He brings an incredible amount of intensity and work ethic … Will was a leader.”

Sheehey transferred to Sagemont from South Fork as a senior and joined a strong team that included former Syracuse standout and current Boston Celtic, Fab Melo.

Sheehey’s recruitment process, though, was far from simple. Ross described it as “interesting and sometimes frustrating” and responded with “there’s no question” when asked if both he and Will felt he was being undervalued. Northwestern and Stanford had given him a look, but pulled out. George Washington had recruited him hard and others from the Patriot and Ivy League had shown some interest. Georgia Tech was in the mix, but never offered a scholarship.

It wasn’t until Darrin Horn, who was South Carolina’s coach at the time and was recruiting another one of Ross’ players, Rod Days, recommended Crean — who had Horn on his staff at Marquette — to take a look at Sheehey, that Indiana entered the picture. Ross said two days later that Crean was in Sagemont’s gym. Two weeks later, Sheehey and Ross headed to Bloomington for an official visit.

Michigan did come in with a scholarship offer late, according to Ross, but by that time Sheehey had just about made up his mind: He wanted to be a Hoosier.

“I think that Will really appreciated and understood coach Crean’s vision for the program long-term,” Ross said. “He really felt like he could be a part of that rebuild and bring Indiana back to the forefront of college basketball. He relishes that underdog role. He likes being told that he’s not going to win.”

***

Heading into Indiana’s 2012-13 campaign, Crean talked of Sheehey as one of the team’s top two improved players. It’s noticeable.

He’s bigger and stronger. His defense has improved. He’s averaging double figures in points (12.6) for the first time as a Hoosier. His effective field goal percentage (61.7) and offensive rating (123.0) are career highs.

He’s emerging as a leader. In recent home games against Coppin State and Central Connecticut State, he could be found standing up off the bench, pointing out things to the starting five before he entered play as the team’s sixth man.

And after Indiana beat Georgetown in overtime at the Barclays Center, the team’s hardest-fought victory of the year, Sheehey also had a message for his teammates.

“As Will Sheehey said in our locker room after we met, ‘it’s a program win for us,’” Crean said after the game. “He went around and thanked the walk-ons, the guys that are out right now, the guys that didn’t play a lot of minutes.”

But Sheehey has changed in other ways, too, and has shown some differences from the rest of his teammates. He switched from No. 10 to No. 0. He, in a very Derrick Rose at the 2012 NBA All-Star Game fashion, eschewed entering Hoosier Hysteria by jumping and dancing around. He came out with a blank stare and walked to join his teammates. All business.

And no stranger to bravado, Sheehey has amped it up a bit this season. After setting an IU record on the VO2 endurance test, he proclaimed: “There’s nobody in the country that can run as far and as long as I can.” He hasn’t always been warm to the media.

“There’s really two personalities to Will Sheehey,” Ross, who talks to Sheehey nearly every day, said. “There’s the baketball player Will Sheehey and the 20-year-old kid, off-the-court Will Sheehey. The guy on the court is as competitive as any human being in the world. He plays with a chip on his shoulder because so many people over the years told him that he couldn’t play at this level, that he couldn’t be successful in the Big Ten, that he would never be successful at Indiana.

“Even after he committed there there was a tremendous amount of criticism and negative undertones from people that he wasn’t good enough to succeed there. That really drives Will to be ultra-competitve. That work ethic, it derives from there. That sometimes I’m sure comes across as confident, arrogant, chippy — whatever adjective you want to use. He plays that way because he feels like he has to. The Will Sheehey off the court couldn’t be a nicer guy. He’s really just a regular, down-to-earth guy that cares about his friends, who cares about the people in his life. He’s a very, very smart, highly intellectual guy.”

It’s that on-court personality, one quite different from IU’s more mild-mannered and humble rotation players, that could come in handy in a rough and tumble Big Ten season when teams are really getting into the Hoosiers. Sheehey –as he showed during that small scuffle at the end of last year’s home game against Penn State — will get in the mix and stick up for his teammates. They need a bit of a badass.

And it’s all why Jeremy Gray of IU Athletics, has described Sheehey as a player the other team is going to hate. But Gray also sees Sheehey similar to Ross.

“One thing about Will that’s impressive is that he’s different than his on-court persona,” said Gray. “Will plays with a serious edge, hounding defense, he likes to dunk on people. He gets jacked up, he gives the ’3′ sign when he knocks down a 3. He’s that guy on the court. But Will is a very, very intelligent young man. It’s my understanding that he plans to go to law school. His father is successful in business and is also a successful former basketball player.

“He’s a guy that you can tell that his teammates love and I think that showed through with the injury to Austin Etherington as Will was right by his side. Will, when he steps inside those lines is one guy, but off the court he’s clearly another.”

***

  • CutterInChicago

    I really like this kid and totally agree, that for other fans/teams, they will hate him but also (if honestly speaking) say that they’d love to have him on their team (call it the “Dane Fife / Brian Cardinal” theorem)

  • MillaRed

    Do you guys remember when we went to NC State last year and grinded out that W? Vic and CWat slapped each others hands frantically as they dribbled out the clock. That was indeed the moment when IU was saying, “We’re back.”

    I think this year’s game against North Carolina was similar in terms of importance. But the message was, “We’re legit.”

    Will was not going to let us lose that game. UNC is in his neck of the woods in the southeast and I’m sure he dreamed about the opportunity to play at that level. They didn’t knock on his door. Life is a trip.

  • http://twitter.com/DrewLyon21 Drew Lyon

    Irony: He was under-recruited, undermined, undervalued, under-scouted.. an afterthought by college coaches across the country. Now he’s swishing 3′s over his opponents, dunking over higher rated recruits, and generally speaking, overachieving in every facet of his game.
    But hey, if that’s what took to get him to come to a once powerful program that at the time was trying to get back to that prestige, then I’m thankful that everyone underestimated him. I’ve been happy to have him here as a Hoosier since day one.

  • Benhyoung14

    I was saying that after that game, IU may be back but it was a little early to tell. All skepticism was gone when IU beat Kentucky.

  • hgdownunder

    I hope CTC can still find room for these types of players with what now seems an annual scholarship crunch.

  • HanginABannerin’13

    He’s a lethal weapon. If he can prove his ball-handling skills, he’s pro material.

  • SCHoosier

    I think what cracks me up about Will..is when you watch him on the bench..or rather standing near the bench. (He seldom sits until the game is no longer in doubt) Don’t know who is more hyper..him or Crean!. Will is constantly making hand signals about the plays..positions..reactions to good and bad plays..like having another coach going thru the histrionics of the job. Just a great all around player with some attitude to boot. Seems to have improved his D so not to be called for silly reach in’s etc. He is going to have at least two huge games for the Hoosiers in the conference…and a lot of great ones. Hard to estimate his value..best 6th man in college b-ball is a good start.

  • Dagwoods

    I remember when Vic & Will were doubted because of the “star” ratings. I had a feeling Vic would contribute right away, but was unsure of Will. At the time we only heard that they were both athletic, but it was easier to find high school highlights of Vic. I remember though, in a casual conversation with one of the assistant coaches that first summer, a mention of how much they both worked on their own when they first got here and how they lived in the gym. They were roommates too so I’m sure they pushed each other. Both their successes are well deserved!

  • Dagwoods

    One more oddity that connects these two – did people know that they are both twins & have twin sisters?

  • IUeconAlum

    I like how he takes good shots. I can’t remember him trying to force anything. He takes his shots when they come and they usually go in.

  • http://twitter.com/DrewLyon21 Drew Lyon

    I definitely think he will. Crean is always thinking for hard working guys that can fit in his system. I don’t know if many of those will continue to come in the form of unranked 3 star guys like Abell Sheehey, or Oladipo after the 2013 class, but I’m sure he’ll continue to recruit guys that have a chip on their shoulder.

  • CreamandCrimson

    Very nice piece of writing Ryan, I appreciate the hard work you guys are doing and the content you are bringing us.

    I love the progress Will has made with his shot. However, one of my favorite plays he has made this year came when he passed up a shot. It was during the CCSU game. Sheehey passed up a shot on the baseline/wing, just inside the three-point line. One shot fake let him dribble by one defender, another defender was blocking out to get the rebound and Will was able to get to the rim for another dunk. It was a very smart play combined with good handle and athleticism. I love Will’s game and the attitude that allows him to embrace being an elite sixth man.

  • b_side

    Fantastic piece, Ryan. Nice to see Postman E tweet it out too.

  • Evansville Hoosier

    seriously? Ha how does that not come up more often?

  • http://www.facebook.com/gregory.spera.3 Gregory Spera

    The biggest compliment anyone could ever give Sheehey, is that IU’s opponents HATE him! Ha!

  • The_Real_Assembly_Hall

    Much love to ya Will, and I appreciate all of your hardwork.

    Side note: I saw Russell Westbrook make a 3 then use the exact same motion of 3 fingers to his head, pulled across his chest, and then put to down to his side EXACTLY the same way our boys have been doing this year. Have our boys started a trend that the pros are paying attention to? Hmmmmm!!! I hope so!!!

  • Evansville Hoosier

    the fact that Will Sheehey really is an offensive weapon speaks to how gifted this team is… and you gotta love Sheehey’s game. Off the court too. Saw him walking around with some girl on Kirkwood late Saturday night… darn the bad luck that I’m not 6’6″ and a great athlete

  • nate91

    Will is going to end up being one of my favorite Hoosier’s of all time, he is so fun to watch

  • Kris

    Amazing to think how much Oladipo and Sheehey have changed the program. Oladipo brought back the “swagger” and to paraphrase Ryan, Sheehey has brought back the “badass”.

    Next time you ever doubt someone’s ability, who knows, you might just be motivating them to become the next Will Sheehey.

  • Benhyoung14

    Devin Davis?

  • http://www.facebook.com/eric.wojcik Eric Wojcik

    All this said, he’s turning into a remarkable mid-range shooter. That may be the vector between the super-competitive guy and the smart guy. A super-competitor, red-in-the-eyes guy might think 3 pointer or dunk every single time, but the mid-range is where a smart player can nail a defense time and time again.

  • IUfanPurduePhD

    Add in “Tyler Hansborough” and make it a trifecta

  • IUfanPurduePhD

    With Vic, Will, and now possibly Remy, being so far down the recruiting ratings, I think there might be some sort of “Crean effect” on the rankings (similar to UK, UNC, etc.), where if the ratings gurus find out that a big-time program is looking at a certain player, his ranking improves.

    Not only were there not 130 players in that 2010 class better than Sheehey, there are not 130 college players — in any class — better than him right now. No way.

  • twarrior87

    If DD continues to have a season like he is currently having he will shoot up the rankings… I’m glad he already signed his LOI.

  • Dagwoods

    He mentioned something at a press conference once that shows how smart he is. He said that he still has to “play” the game in his mind while he is on the bench watching so that he knows exactly what he needs to do once he gets in and contribute right away. Yes – there is a science to being the best 6th man in the country!

  • Oldguyy

    Thus it has always been,Evansville. I recall walking into the library once and seeing John Laskowski, who was kind of goofy-looking in college with ears that stuck out, sitting at a table where all of the other seats were occupied by great-looking girls.

  • hgdownunder

    I suspect DD’s days of being underrated are over. I actually was wondering about Colin Hartman, since he hasn’t gotten much love lately.

  • Earl Scheib

    Dear Will,

    My wife’s from Oregon, and knows nothing about Indiana basketball. So I’m slowly indoctrinating her by making her watch all the games with me. Guess what, Will. My wife likes you. She thinks you’re “cute” and that you have “nice hair.” I prefer to think of you as “tough” with a “nice jump shot.” Anyway, is there a chance you can spare a jersey so I can keep her satisfied a little more thoroughly? I’d be grateful, Will. Thank you.

  • HoosierPat

    Every opponent has got to hate Will… And that’s what I love about him as a player. A lot of people see him as cocky but I see him just like Ryan does. He is a “badass” with some serious swagger. We have Cody, Jordy, Yogi, and CWat, but having Will and Vic flying around the court is what gives this team their spark.

  • HoosierPat

    He and Vic have matured so much during their time at Indiana. Their freshman year they tried to dunk on everyone and make the amazing play every time. Now they are mature basketball players and focus more on execution. These guys will definitely go down as two of my favorite players ever.

  • jayrig5

    He still takes some heat check 3′s from time to time.

    He also got benched for one play after trying like 8 crossovers in a row right in front of the IU bench, and losing the ball out of bounds.

    I love him though. Such an important player.

  • marcusgresham

    I’m pretty sure my wife would leave me in a minute for him. I know my 13 year-old daughter would.

  • marcusgresham

    I’ll brag a bit, but don’t include me as one of the people who motivated him because I saw something the first time I saw him on the floor.
    Honestly, you have to do the reverse stereo-type thing with him. Kind of like when they used to compare Keith Van Horn to Larry Bird because he was white, where he was more Larry Nance than Larry Bird.

  • Hoosier1388

    Great piece Ryan. I used to work with Will and the first day we had been introduced I asked how great it felt dunking on that bum from iowa? He kinda looked down and said with a hint of sadness “everybody always aks me that… I don’t want to be remebered for a dunk, I want to be remembered as an all around player, that’s why I came here…” I knew we had a player right then and there… A real special one… He also later confessed that Iowa’s Melsahn Basabe had been talking smack all game and it was the sweetest payback bangin’ one on him. Great kid…

  • http://www.trinityoaklabs.com Hoosiergirl

    EXCELLENT read Ryan, printing this one off for my non-computer aunt, she won’t want to miss this one!

  • Miamihoosier

    Will is a guy I will point to as an example of what an Indiana player should represent even years from now. I’m so proud to have him on our team. I think it’s coach K who says he doesn’t look for guys who want to go out and “play” basketball, he wants guys and teams who go on to the court looking for a fight. Will is looking for a fight. So is Vic, and Jordy. That’s why I love this team so much. If someone is going to beat us, they are going to have to really fight us for it, and about kill themselves to get it. As long as Will Sheehey is at Indiana, we will never have a game where we say “the guys just didn’t bring it tonight, they didn’t have the effort”. He won’t allow it.

  • CreamandCrimson

    Russell Westbrook has done that for his whole pro career. He is much more boisterous with his post-shot hand signals than our guys. Our players are pretty much doing the same thing as Westbrook but they didn’t start it.

  • The_Real_Assembly_Hall

    I never noticed him doing it. Oh well, as a team they are taking it to a whole different level then. I like they camaraderie it shows.

  • CreamandCrimson

    I like it as well. As long as it doesn’t get too over the top (to the level of taunting), I’m all for anything that adds to unity.

  • IUMIKE1

    When we first started recruiting him I seen an interview with him & I remember thinking at that time that his reply to questions that weren’t about bball impressed me as much or more than his answers related to bball questions. Had a really good feeling about him from that point on.

    Ahhh, if I could only have that kind of foresight when it comes to IPO’s. lol

  • The_Real_Assembly_Hall

    Yes I do not stand for taunting either. Shows no class. Let your play do the talking. I think this is more or less just cheering each other on.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ronald.cordry Ronald Lee Cordry

    That’s for writing an article befitting to the great Will Sheehey. I absolutely love this team. Sky’s the limit. GO Hoosiers!!!

  • http://twitter.com/hoosiersmitty HoosierSmitty

    He’s still goofy-lookin’!

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