Q & A: Justin Smith talks Indiana commitment

Indiana added to its 2017 recruiting class on Monday night with the commitment of four-star forward Justin Smith.

Smith, the No. 76 prospect nationally by the 247Composite, averaged 17 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists at Adlai Stevenson high school (Ill.) as a junior. He chose Indiana over Villanova and also considered Michigan, Stanford, Xavier, Wisconsin and Illinois.

Inside the Hall spoke with Smith one-on-one to discuss his pledge to the Hoosiers and much more. Here’s a transcript of our full Q & A:

On why he was ready to commit:

“Going into this fall period, I was very much looking forward to just figuring out where I wanted to go to college, which would allow me to focus on my high school season. So that was the main reason I took all of those visits early and then committed when I did.”

On the visits he took this fall besides his official trips to IU and Villanova:

“I took an unofficial to Xavier, an unofficial to Wisconsin and that was it.”

On why Indiana was the right fit for him:

“They just sold me on the fact that they will get me better. I was able to see how they will get me better by just looking at the players they have now and the ones that they have worked with before and just how much they’ve improved. That’s really what allowed me to make the decision.”

On his relationship with Tom Crean and assistant coach Rob Judson and the importance of those relationships in his decision:

“I have a great relationship with both of them, that’s why I’m going to Indiana. I visited Indiana probably the most out of any school. We got to build a relationship with the two of them, my family got to know them really well. That’s what contributed to the decision.”

On the biggest thing he learned on his official visit:

“Just seeing how hard the team works, how hard the coaches work and how they work together to try and reach a common goal.”

On what he wants to show in his final high school season and his individual and team goals:

“As a player, I just want to get better at creating my own shot and being able to be counted on by my team to go get a basket or go make a big play. As a team, our goal is to win a state championship. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”

On what he’s looking forward to the most when he thinks about his future at Indiana:

“When I visited there, I saw a couple of games and the atmosphere is crazy. It’s electric. I really want to be a part of it.”

(Photo credit: Worsom Robinson/Sun-Times)

2016-2017 ITH Season Preview: Northwestern Wildcats

With the start of college basketball season on the horizon, we’ll be taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster over the next month. Today, we continue our Big Ten team previews with the Northwestern Wildcats.

While Northwestern finished just ninth in the Big Ten last season during Chris Collins’ third year at the helm, it was by far the team’s best performance under the former Duke assistant.

Despite losing promising sophomore Vic Law for the season due to a torn labrum in his left shoulder in the preseason, the Wildcats finished over .500 (20-12) for the first time in Collins’ tenure and ranked a respectable 78th in the final KenPom rankings. The team’s strength on offense was its ability to take care of the ball (15.8 turnover percentage, 31st nationally) and on defense it held opponents to just a 46.5 eFG percentage (34th nationally).

But heading into the 2016-2017 campaign, the Wildcats have lost two key pieces that were big factors on both sides of the ball. And it’s why they may ultimately be hanging closer to the bottom of the Big Ten than the top heading into Collins’ fourth year.

Part of the reason Northwestern’s defense held opponents to just a 43.4 two-point percentage (19th best in country) was senior Alex Olah’s shotblocking presence (6.7 block percent, eighth best in conference) around the rim. Olah also used the second most possessions on offense last season for the Wildcats. He’s now gone. Fellow senior Tre Demps has also departed. Demps used the third most possessions on offense last season for Northwestern, played 90.9 percent of available minutes and had a ridiculously low turnover percentage of just 8.8.

Still, the Wildcats are not devoid of talent. Bryant McIntosh returns for a junior season and provides a steady presence in the backcourt as one of the Big Ten’s best distributors. His assist rate of 37.3 was second in the conference to Denzel Valentine a year ago.

Law’s return from injury gives Collins more versatility in the lineup. Forward Aaron Falzon proved capable as a freshman (8.4 PPG, 9.6 turnover percentage) and figures to gobble up more possessions and minutes with Demps and Olah gone. As the only regular to shoot over 40 percent (40.9) last season, junior Scottie Lindsey gives the Wildcats 3-point shooting.

Sophomore Dererk Pardon, who was going to redshirt last year before Olah got injured, should be one of the Big Ten’s best rebounders. As a freshman, Pardon ranked in the top ten in the league in offensive rebounding percentage. Senior Nathan Taphorn and junior Gavin Skelly will help provide frontcourt depth.

Collins also welcomes in a pair of local Chicago-area recruits to the team this season: Hinsdale South product Barret Benson (247 Composite rank: 153) and Rapolas Ivanauskas from Barrington (247 Composite rank: 147).

Bottom Line: The loss of Demps and Olah is a lot to make up for, but Collins has enough talent on his roster – and as a coach – to make the Wildcats competitive. It was recently announced the team will be playing its 2017-2018 season at Allstate Arena as Welsh-Ryan Arena undergoes a $110 million renovation. The new facilities may help Collins on the recruiting trail as he competes against the conference elite. But for this year at least, Northwestern may once again be on the outside looking in come Selection Sunday.

Quotable: “It’s still all about relationships, fit, opportunity.  When (recruits) see now that we have the very best of facilities — with locker rooms, with space and sports medicine and now our arena — it just adds to the academic prestige, to being in Chicago, being in the Big Ten. Now all of a sudden, these guys have it all. It helps with recruiting, it helps with the perception of our program. People realize that there’s a major commitment for us to be great in basketball.” — Collins on the upcoming improvements to Welsh-Ryan Arena

PreviouslyRutgers, Minnesota, Nebraska, Illinois, Iowa

(Photo credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America)

2016-2017 ITH Season Preview: Iowa Hawkeyes

With the start of college basketball season on the horizon, we’ll be taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster over the next month. Today, we continue our Big Ten team previews with the Iowa Hawkeyes.

It’s a new era for Iowa basketball. The graduation of four starters means that Fran McCaffery will be tasked with guiding the Hawkeyes through a transition season.

The headlining returnee for McCaffery is senior Peter Jok, who should be in the mix for All-Big Ten first team honors. Jok averaged 16.1 points last season season and shot 40.2 percent on 3s on 199 attempts. Jok needs to become a better distributor (10.6 percent assist rate) and more of a leader on the floor, but there’s no question that he’s Iowa’s best player.

The top candidate to replace Mike Gesell at point guard is freshman Jordan Bohannon, who was Iowa’s Mr. Basketball. The 6-foot Bohannon wasn’t highly ranked by the national recruiting services, but should get the opportunity to run the team right away.

Sophomores Christian Williams and Brady Ellingson will have the chance to earn more minutes after playing sparingly as freshmen. Ellingson was recruited for his shooting prowess, but hit just 27.3 percent of his 3s as a freshman. Williams is 6-foot-5, can play multiple positions and could also handle the ball at times.

On the wing, sophomore Ahmad Wagner should grow into a bigger role after a very solid freshman season. The 6-foot-7 forward made 71.1 percent of his 2s last season and was a solid rebounder on both ends. Redshirt sophomore Nicolas Baer scored 15 points against Villanova in the NCAA tournament and hit 39.4 percent of his 3s last season.

Our pick to break out on the roster is 6-foot-9 junior Dom Uhl. Uhl isn’t a traditional big man, but that is part of what makes him intriguing. He shot 45 percent on 3s as a sophomore and just 39.6 percent on 2s. He should be joined up front by freshman Tyler Cook, who should make an immediate impact. Listed at 6-foot-9 and 253 pounds, Cook is Iowa’s highest rated recruit at No. 72 in the final 247Composite for 2016.

Others to to keep an eye on are 6-foot-7 senior Dale Jones, who has battled injuries throughout his career and freshman Maishe Dailey, who is 6-foot-6 and had mostly mid-major offers but ultimately landed in Iowa City as a spring signee. Freshman Ryan Kriener should provide frontcourt depth at 6-foot-9 with the ability to stretch the floor.

Bottom Line: Iowa is a difficult team to project in the preseason and the early projections are indicative of that. The Hawkeyes have been picked to finish as high as eighth in the Big Ten and as low as 11th. It’ll be a challenge for this group to finish in the top half of the league and make the NCAA tournament, but Jok and Uhl should be a solid one-two punch. Beyond that, McCaffery is going to need his young talent to step up to help fill in the production lost from guys like Jarrod Uthoff, Mike Gesell, Adam Woodbury and Anthony Clemmons.

Quotable: “Fran McCaffery’s team was 19-4 and 10-1 in the Big Ten, had home-road sweeps of Purdue and Michigan State under its belt, was universally regarded as a a top-five team/national title contender and was led by a brilliant senior season from Wooden Award candidate Jarrod Uthoff. That, of course, all came crashing down, and no one remembers how good Uthoff or the Hawkeyes were for about the first 70 percent of the season. That’s a shame. The point is the Hawkeyes lost Uthoff, guard Anthony Clemmons, point guard Mike Gesell and center Adam Woodbury. All four were seniors; Gesell and Woodbury started as freshmen. In their wake stands Jok, whose scoring prowess often lifted Iowa’s attack to new heights last season. Can he be as effective without so many weapons — let alone that much entwined, almost-telepathic experience — surrounding him? What is Iowa if he can’t?” – ESPN.com’s Eamonn Brennan.

PreviouslyRutgers, Minnesota, Nebraska, Illinois

(Photo credit: Joe Robbins/Getty Images North America)

Collin Hartman undergoes knee surgery, timetable for return unknown

Indiana senior forward Collin Hartman underwent knee surgery to repair damage in his left knee, the program announced on Wednesday evening.

Here’s the full statement released by IU:

Collin Hartman successful left knee surgery to repair damage from an injury sustained last week in a non-contact drill. His rehabilitation begins immediately and it is too early to determine a timetable for his return.”

Tom Crean also released the following statement: “Any time you see one of your players go down to injury, it tears you up as a person and as a program — even more so with it’s someone like Collin Hartman who has been a huge part of our success and is in his senior year. We all look forward to helping him recover and rehabilitate.”

Hartman, who started 24 games as a junior, averaged five points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 21.9 minutes per game last season. He shot 35.8 percent from behind the 3-point line.

The 6-foot-7 senior played several games at the end of last season with a fracture in his wrist, an injury he suffered in Indiana’s 72-69 loss to Michigan in the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis.

It was initially believed that the wrist injury would require offseason surgery, but Tom Crean said in June that the wrist was put in a cast and did not require a procedure.

Following Hartman’s freshman season at Indiana, he suffered a torn ACL in his right knee after planting his knee wrong in a drill. As a result of that injury, Hartman missed Indiana’s trip to Montreal in August of 2014. He returned as a sophomore to play in 32 of Indiana’s 34 games.

Prior to his junior season, Hartman missed practice time with a rib injury. The Cathedral product is the only senior on Indiana’s roster for the upcoming season.

Indiana can begin practice for the 2016-2017 season on Friday.

POTB 143: Hartman, Justin Smith, Big Ten projections with Mike Miller

Podcast on the Brink is back for another episode with host Jerod Morris of The Assembly Call. The show is currently available weekly. You can access a full archive of episodes here.

In this edition of the show, Morris and Inside the Hall editor Alex Bozich are joined by Mike Miller of The Herald-Times.

Among the topics discussed:

· Collin Hartman’s injury and how it could affect this season’s rotation
· Is Indiana’s ceiling as a team lower if Hartman is out for the year?
· Where things stand injury wise with Robert Johnson and Juwan Morgan after offseason surgery
· The importance of Justin Smith for Indiana’s recruiting momentum
· How Smith and Kris Wilkes could fit together in Bloomington
· What stood out from Mike’s conversation with Smith’s high school coach
· The Big Ten hierarchy entering the 2016-2017 season
· Indiana’s seven games starting at 9 p.m. this season and if that number is higher than usual
· A brief IU-MSU football preview from Mike

And plenty more. As always, feel free to drop the show a note at jerod@assemblycall.com.

Listen in the audio player below, download the episode, subscribe via iTunes or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Around the Hall: Smith talks decision, recruiting updates, more

Around the Hall is recommended reading from the Inside the Hall staff.

Justin Smith spoke to the Chicago Tribune about his decision to commit to Indiana:

The son of Illinois graduates, Smith committed to Indiana on Monday night. The No. 4 senior recruit in the state and 76th nationally in 247Sports’ composite rankings, Smith ultimately chose the Hoosiers over Villanova.

The Illini were in the final eight of his “14 or 15” scholarship offers, but they got no closer than that. Smith said Stanford, Wisconsin and Xavier rounded out his top five.

“Very early in the process, my parents let me know it is my decision,” Smith said. “They would steer me in right direction, but not force me to go anywhere.

“I just felt (Indiana) was the best fit for me basketball-wise and academic-wise and for my family being able to come to see my games. Just the entirety of it felt right.”

Indiana is playing in four of the top 25 non-conference games in college basketball this season, according to NBCSports.com. The highest ranked of the four is the New Year’s Eve tilt with Louisville:

10. Louisville vs. Indiana – Indianapolis – Dec. 31 (12:30 p.m.): This border battle game will be played off-campus at the home of the Pacers, but with Indy’s close proximity to both schools and a pair of fervent fanbases, this one should have that big-time collegiate feel with two top-15 teams.

Indiana’s OG Anunoby is among 20 breakout candidates for the 2016-2017 season, according to CBSSports.com:

A tremendous athlete with loads of potential. If we were only listing the top five breakout candidates for this season, he’d crack the list. I think he’ll be that good, that important to Tom Crean’s team this season. His usage numbers should blow up — and he’s really fun to watch. As electric a player Indiana’s had since Victor Oladipo.

NBCSports.com named Thomas Bryant a preseason second team All-American:

Thomas Bryant, Indiana: Bryant is another guy that had a chance to be a first round pick last season but opted to return to school. He had a promising first year in Bloomington, but it came with typical freshman mistakes: He was lost early in the year, especially on the defensive end. But Bryant has the tools, he plays extremely hard and he’s young for his grade; he was born five months after Josh Jackson.

Kentucky has “positioned themselves pretty nicely” for Tremont Waters according to comments made by Evan Daniels to Kentucky.com:

Indiana was the perceived leader for Waters coming out of the summer, but Calipari traveled to Connecticut to meet with him during the opening days of the fall recruiting period, and Waters showed up on UK’s campus two weekends ago for an official visit.

“I think Kentucky has certainly positioned themselves pretty nicely,” Daniels said. “They seem to have made a pretty big impression on him. … From the outside looking in, it certainly looks like Kentucky is in great shape for him.”

Five-star forward Billy Preston is opening his recruitment to other schools, he told Zagsblog.com:

Presently, Indiana, Syracuse, Maryland, Kansas and USC are actively recruiting him, and he’s slated to take any official visit to Kansas this weekend for “Late Night in the Phog.”

“After talking with my family and starting my senior year at Oak Hill Academy, I have decided to open my recruitment up and explore what schools would best fit for me as a student-athlete,” Preston said. “I am looking forward to taking official visits and have no time table for making my final decision.”

(Photo credit: Darrell Goemaat, Chicago Tribune)

Indiana picked to finish fourth in Big Ten by Blue Ribbon

The fourth college basketball yearbook published this fall, the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, was released this week.

After being ranked No. 38 by Lindy’sNo. 12 by Athlon Sports and No. 13 by The Sporting News, the Hoosiers come in at No. 18 in the Blue Ribbon preseason top 25.

Here are some other IU and Big Ten centric notes from the yearbook:

· Thomas Bryant is a preseason first team All-American and is joined by Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes and Maryland’s Melo Trimble. No other Big Ten players are on the second, third or fourth teams named by Blue Ribbon.

· Indiana’s projected starters are James Blackmon Jr., Robert Johnson, Collin Hartman, OG Anunoby and Thomas Bryant. That projection, obviously, was made before the Hartman injury news last week.

· Blue Ribbon projects Indiana to finish fourth in the Big Ten. Here’s the complete forecast for the order of finish: Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan State, Indiana, Maryland, Ohio State, Michigan, Illinois, Northwestern, Penn State, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Rutgers.

· Blue Ribbon’s All-Big Ten team includes Bryant, Trimble, Hayes, Malcolm Hill of Illinois and Iowa’s Peter Jok.

· Hayes is the preseason player of the year and Michigan State’s Miles Bridges is the newcomer of the year.

· Here’s a composite look at all of the preseason Big Ten projections announced thus far:


2016-2017 ITH Season Preview: Illinois Fighting Illini

With the start of college basketball season on the horizon, we’ll be taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster over the next month. Today, we continue our Big Ten team previews with the Illinois Fighting Illini.

As John Groce enters his fifth season at the helm in Champaign, the Illinois program is at a crossroads.

The Fighting Illini have missed the NCAA tournament in three consecutive seasons and a fourth straight miss would turn up the heat even more on Groce’s seat. However, Groce still has the confidence of new athletic director Josh Whitman and has recruiting momentum in the class of 2017.

This year’s Illinois squad might be the toughest Big Ten team to project as the Illini have been picked to finish as high as sixth in the league and as low as 12th in the preseason. The talent is certainly there to surprise, but there are plenty of caveats, too.

At the top of the list of those caveats is health. Illinois has been plagued by injuries in recent seasons and will need Tracy Abrams, Mike Thorne and Leron Black at full strength if expectations are to be exceeded.

Senior wing Malcolm Hill is one of the Big Ten’s best players and will once again carry a heavy offensive load. Hill used 27.7 of Illinois’ possessions last season while on the floor and posted an effective field goal percentage of 47.8. Hill does a great job of using his body to get into the lane and draw fouls. He can play both forward spots and averaged 18.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists as a junior.

Abrams is back for a sixth season after injuries derailed his last two attempts at a senior year. He’ll get the first shot at the point guard position, but could be pushed by freshman Te’Jon Lucas.

Sophomore Jalen Coleman-Lands is currently recovering from a broken hand, but should be ready to go sometime in November. Coleman-Lands connected on 42.2 percent of his 3s last season and is a prime candidate to have a breakout season.

Sophomore D.J. Williams is a solid athlete and slasher while classmate Aaron Jordan hit 34.4 percent of his 3s last season. Both could have a chance at increased minutes following the offseason dismissal of Kendrick Nunn, the team’s second leading scorer last season. Transfer Kipper Nichols is another player to watch, but he’ll miss the first 11 games due to NCAA rules.

Up front, Illinois should have more options this season if Thorne and Black are healthy. Thorne was granted a medical redshirt after missing most of last season with a knee injury. Black is suspended for the first four games, but is a former top 50 recruit who has the potential to make an impact on the glass.

Senior Maverick Morgan and sophomore Michael Finke, both of whom started last season, could be looking at lesser roles if Thorne and Black are healthy. The 6-foot-10 Finke can stretch the floor with his ability to shoot and Morgan shot 56.4 percent on his 2s as a junior.

Bottom Line: While it may be a stretch to call this a make or break season for Groce, there’s pressure to show progress. Strong early returns in 2017 recruiting have taken some of the pressure off, but Illinois needs quit moving backwards in the Big Ten standings. After a 23-win season in 2012-2013, the Illini have won 20, 19 and 15 games in the last three seasons. If this group can stay healthy, there’s potential to surprise, but it may be a reach for Illinois to finish in the top half of the league. It will also help quiet critics if Illinois can stay out of trouble off the court, which was a major issue last season.

Quotable: “I think it’s important today that folks understand that John Groce is going to continue to be our basketball coach. He’s a first-class individual and an excellent leader. He’s a student of basketball and leadership, and I feel really comfortable with the leadership he’s given our guys.” – Whitman on Groce last spring.

PreviouslyRutgers, Minnesota, Nebraska

(Photo credit: Joe Robbins/Getty Images North America)

Class of 2017 forward Justin Smith commits to Indiana

Indiana’s 2017 recruiting class added a second member on Monday night as Stevenson (Ill.) forward Justin Smith announced for the Hoosiers.

The 6-foot-7 Smith, who averaged 17, 8.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists at Stevenson as a junior, chose Indiana over Villanova. He also considered Michigan, Stanford, Xavier, Wisconsin and Illinois.

The four-star prospect is ranked No. 76 nationally by the 247Composite.

Smith averaged 8.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game this past spring on the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL) circuit for the Mac Irvin Fire.

Indiana hosted Smith on three unofficial visits before his official visit to Bloomington on the weekend of September 10. His first unofficial visit to Indiana came in August of 2015, following a scholarship offer in May of 2015.

Smith’s visit to last year’s Hoosier Hysteria was considered pivotal in his recruitment.

He joins Berkmar (Ga.) guard Al Durham in IU’s 2017 recruiting class.

Indiana is still targeting Kris Wilkes, who will be in Bloomington this coming weekend for an official visit and point guard Tremont Waters, who visited this past weekend, among several others.

As a sophomore at Stevenson, Smith helped lead Stevenson to a Class 4A state championship along with current Villanova guard Jalen Brunson. He averaged 10.3 points and four rebounds that season.

Video: Victor Oladipo at Oklahoma City media day

Former Indiana All-American Victor Oladipo is entering his fourth season in the NBA and his first as a member of the Oklahoma City following a trade over the summer.

Oladipo addressed the media in a press conference at the organization’s annual media day and we’ve got the complete video below: