CJ Gunn’s confidence, energy shows his potential to be a game-changer for Indiana

  • 01/09/2024 8:05 am in

Two words to describe Indiana basketball’s win on Saturday over Ohio State? Gunn show.

CJ Gunn has always been a confident guy. He carries himself as someone who knows what he’s capable of and understands it may just be a matter of time before everyone else realizes it, too. Throughout his time at Indiana, Gunn has shown flashes of his potential, but never quite to the extent where he could be described as someone who could be a game-changer.

He had never heard the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall crowd cheer when he came off the bench or roar as he ran down the court celebrating a 3-pointer. He had never put on a show before.

Then, he did, and he helped Indiana win a game it desperately needed to.

The sophomore played arguably the best game of his college career on January 6, scoring 10 points and playing for a career-high 24 minutes. Gunn did a little bit of everything, coming through on offense and staying active and pesky on defense.

However, his greatest attribute didn’t appear on the stat sheet. They rarely do.

“Your mental approach has to be on par,” Mike Woodson said Saturday. “If I don’t see that, then how can I have confidence in playing you? I thought these last two days he was right on par, man, in terms of what we wanted.”

For Woodson, having the correct mentality is just as important as understanding the game. To earn the trust of IU’s third-year head coach, it takes a combination of the two and, perhaps above all, a willingness to continue to put the work in.

Gunn embraced what Woodson wanted, and worked hard to satisfy his head coach. Woodson noticed his dedication in practice and decided to see if it would transfer to a game. It did, and Gunn’s diligence is starting to pay off.

“He had two good days, man, and I thought he deserved to play,” Woodson said. “I thought he responded, which was kind of nice.”

Gunn didn’t just put his all into practice, though. He did — and continues to do — everything possible to get better on and off the court.

“It’s just how much I watch the game and study the game,” Gunn said about his increased confidence. “Coach made an emphasis that I need to be more in tune with what we’re doing on both sides of the floor. Being upstairs with Walsh and Jordy, going over film consistently, that obviously brings me more comfort in the game.”

Gunn is the kind of player who, when he is comfortable, can turn a game around with a few plays. He showed his capacity to do just that in the second half of Indiana’s game against Ohio State, playing for 19 minutes and scoring five momentum-shifting points to propel the Hoosiers to a 71-65 victory.

All five of his points came between the nine and six-minute marks, just when Indiana settled into its groove and started building a lead over the Buckeyes.

Gunn’s confidence and understanding of the game were necessary in a game where Indiana was out-toughed on the glass, getting out-rebounded 49-27. He didn’t necessarily aid in Indiana’s fight under the basket, but he brought a spark off the bench and held the mentality of doing whatever he needed to give his team some energy.

So, when Gunn turned to the crowd with double finger guns — get it? — after sinking a 3-pointer, it’s no surprise the entire Indiana bench stood in celebration and the crowd went wild. A home crowd does wonders for a team’s energy, and Gunn knew how to get the Hoosier faithful fired up.

“He’s a guy that has high confidence in himself and fears nothing,” Xavier Johnson said.

Fearlessness and tenacity are two intangibles that any coach would be happy to have in a player coming off the bench. Gunn has shown he possesses those qualities and that he can change the flow of a game. Now, can he continue to be the player he was on Saturday?

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