Big Ten media day notebook: Blackmon Jr. talks defensive criticism

  • 10/13/2016 3:48 pm in

WASHINGTON – It was a tough 2015-2016 season for Indiana’s James Blackmon Jr.

Not only did the former McDonald’s All-American miss the entire Big Ten and postseason portion of the schedule with a knee injury, he took criticism while off the floor. His absence was frequently cited as a reason for Indiana’s defensive turnaround the second half of the season.

Blackmon Jr. heard some of what was said on the outside, but said he tried to ignore most of it.

“I heard a little bit of it,” the IU junior said at Big Ten media day at the Marriott Wardman Park. “I really didn’t pay attention to it because a lot of people on the outside don’t know what’s going on.

“When you hear stuff like that, you want to show your best and I feel like I will do that this season.”

Blackmon Jr.’s return to full strength is a key for Indiana to reach its potential and contend for another Big Ten championship. Earlier in the week, he was named to the All-Big Ten preseason team by a panel of media.

His teammate and backcourt mate, Robert Johnson, believes Blackmon Jr. will return as an even better player after an exhaustive rehabilitation process.

“I’m extremely proud of him with how he’s come back from his rehab,” Johnson said. “He’s actually come back stronger and faster. I think you see that with some of his numbers in the strength and conditioning program. His bench number, his vertical numbers went up. I think it’s all a testament to how hard he’s worked.”

Bryant’s decision to return not a difficult one

The Big Ten lost two McDonald’s All-American freshman to the NBA last season and two opted to return to school for their sophomore seasons.

The two who returned: Indiana’s Thomas Bryant and Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan. While Swanigan went through the NBA pre-draft process and waited until later in May to announce he would return to school, Bryant didn’t even test the waters despite being a potential first round pick.

In fact, leaving early wasn’t something the Indiana sophomore seriously considered.

“Just seeing myself as a long term prospect in the game of basketball, I knew I needed to return for my sophomore year before I even finished the season,” Bryant said Thursday. “I thought it would be better for me for the long term.”

Taking the long view is something that could pay off for Bryant down the road. The key to a lucrative NBA career is reaching the second contract, which is something that many guys who leave school early struggle to do.

Bryant also looked at recent Indiana examples like Cody Zeller, who was the No. 4 pick after two years in college and Victor Oladipo, the No. 2 pick after three years in Bloomington.

“Of course you look at that because they were top notch guys who played in the Indiana program,” he explained. “But also I just looked at myself as well, just doing what was best for me.”

While Bryant’s decision to return without even testing the waters may have been a surprise to some, it wasn’t to one of his closest friends.

Michigan State freshman Miles Bridges, who played with the Indiana sophomore for two seasons at Huntington Prep, said Bryant realized he still had plenty to work on before making the jump to the next level.

“He improved his game a lot last year,” Bridges said. “I’m kind of happy that he didn’t go into the (NBA) draft because he’s going to be one of the best players in college basketball. I have a lot of love for Thomas.

“He had talked to me about it before. I knew he wasn’t going to test it or go into the draft because he told me that he wasn’t ready yet.”

Weekend trip to New York focused on service

In the spring of 2015, Indiana visited the Abide Center in North Omaha during its trip to the NCAA tournament.

Last fall, the program went to the Police Athletic League in Baltimore. And most recently, the Hoosiers went to New York City for a trip focused on service.

There were basketball aspects to Indiana’s trip to New York, but it wasn’t what the Hoosiers will remember most from the trip.

That moment will be reserved for the trip to 118th and Lenox in Harlem, where Indiana worked with 120 kids for three and a half hours.

“A lot of those kids in those areas, I see myself in them,” Johnson said. “Especially the ones playing sports and you just see the joy by playing with you. It’s good to have a chance to go in and be a positive influence and impact lives like that.”

Tom Crean said that when it’s all said and done, he hopes his players remember the service experiences as much as anything else.

“I’d be shocked, to a man, if our kids weren’t as inspired as you’d hope those kids would be,” Crean said. “The thing we try to get across, time after time, is be selfless and be a problem solver. And you don’t do that in one giant swoop. You do that one person at a time or one group of a time.”

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  • Sounds like JBJ is all set to prove me right that his defense will be just fine this season. 🙂

  • Stromboli

    He doesn’t get enough attention. The guy is a star for us. I hope he has a huge year.

  • unclekerfuffle

    Hey, Alex.

    Typo–VO was #2, I believe.

  • unclekerfuffle

    If JBJ can up his defense somewhat and maintain/increase his offensive output then how much impact will that have on the total defensive scheme for the B1G?

  • Fixed it!

  • Bruce Clark

    Looking forward to this year and seeing JB light ’em up at both ends of the floor. Sounds like he is playing with a chip on his shoulder.

  • If JBJ matches the offense he was putting on the floor before he was hurt last year, and can improve his defense at least as much as NZ did, then he’ll be a phenomenal player and the team could accomplish some great things. Put RJ on the oppositions best guard, let JBJ play his part in a solid team defensive concept, and the sky’s the limit.

  • Berned Out

    All I got from this article is that JBJ continues to be stubborn about accepting criticism and that our coaches are treating him like the bionic man and setting him up for more injury and failure. What’s up with the “vertical jump” obsession??!! I mean, are we The Kangaroos or a basketball team?

  • HardRockHoosier

    Why don’t you go ‘troll’ another site??? Your brand of derogatory isn’t really appreciated here.

  • Berned Out

    Your head is the hard rock.

  • Missing Moye

    Color me skeptical. But I certainly hope you are right.

  • Note that I’m not predicting he’ll win B1G defensive player of the year, rather just that his defense won’t be counted as a detriment. I feel confident saying this because I consider the myth that grew up around his defense being _that bad_ to have been quite overblown, and as long as he’s healthy, he’ll be able to hold his own next season. Honestly, I think the team’s defense was simply atrocious before the turnaround, and JBJ simply got the brunt of the criticism. Looking back on the Duke game, Yogi’s defense was at least as bad as JBJ’s, maybe even worse in stretches.

  • Nobody’s going to be talking about his defense this year. He’s going to be a big-time elite scorer. His defense just has to be decent. I hope most people have completely forgotten that this used to be a “thing” last year, after being blown away with an All-Big Ten performance.

  • On an unrelated note, I believe Victor Oladipo is going up against one Troy Williams tonight in preseason pro ball.

  • Missing Moye

    I think that poor dead horse has had enough between the two of us this offseason. We’ll wait and see how he looks next month.

  • Bruce Clark

    Agree. I remember when JBJ committed to IU how happy most on the board were. JBJ is a lights-out shooter and if he is 100% this year we could see some crazy numbers on occasion…

  • Yeah, I hear you. I _almost_ just wrote “well, the season starts soon enough, so we’ll see,” and then I got to thinking more about it. Then I started writing. 🙂

  • Absolutely. As I wrote in another reply, I’m thinking a similar improvement to NZ last season. I suppose I go off on this one a bit because I think JBJ got a bum rap last season. But as I’ve been reminded, that horse is dead and it’s time to move on. 🙂

  • On NZ, what a perfectly good example set for JBJ. Nobody expected him to land a spot in the pros this year, showing what a deadly 3-point shot and decent defense can do for a guy’s pro prospects. His improvements on D by the end of last season were quiet but impressive, and it served him well in the long run. JBJ cannot possibly have not noticed this. Also, I’ve been with you all along on that dead horse. From the very beginning!

  • Arch Puddington

    I’m not sure it is a dead horse. The comments have been pretty favorable of late, but wait until the season starts and the masses begin posting. I suspect that every time he blows an assignment or we lose a game there will be some cat calls.

    What I am looking forward to is not only his good health, but to how his and everyone else’s defense looks with front line of TB, JM, OG, and DD all healthy as well. Among the problems our guards had last year was poor interior defense behind them. It was that as much as anything that improved last year, particularly as JM and OG emerged. They just absolutely clog everything up. With both of them getting major minutes, and with an improved TB, and with a promising backup in DD, JBJ and everyone else should look much better on that basis alone. Add in any individual improvements they have made and the overall improvement in our team defense (switching, rotations, hedges, etc), and there is every reason to expect JBJ to defend quite well.

  • Great points all. Man, RJ playing lock-down defense on the opponent’s best guard without having to worry so much about what’s happening behind him–I know it’s good that there’s some time for kids to continue to get healthy, but I do wish the season started tomorrow.

  • Great point about NZ–who would have imagined the guy getting any kind of attention whatsoever from the NBA? And definitely, JBJ has had a lot of time to soak everything in. I’m sure he’ll be ready to play.

  • AZMBNZ

    I watched the hat drama live on ESPN. I went crazy when I saw the IU hat. One of the best moments off the court in recent memory.

  • AZMBNZ

    Yeah. I still maintain TW was unfairly criticized. His aggressiveness was constantly misinterpreted. He is starting and averaging 11 points in the preseason which is pretty darn good for an undrafted rookie.

  • AZMBNZ

    I love the fact that player development includes selfless acts. I think that culture will be felt on the court in terms of unity and playing together FOR Indiana.

  • VAHoosier

    Crean has already hinted that this may be his best defensive team yet, and I think it is for the reasons you suggest. We have some great length, and if the guys buy in to team-defense, they should be a very formidable group.