The word on Noah Vonleh was always that could he jump out of the gym.
That much was confirmed about the Indiana University true freshman this week in a conversation with IU strength and conditioning coach Je'Ney Jackson.
In a casual conversation, almost in an ‘oh-by-the-way' fashion, Jackson mentioned that Vonleh had touched 12 feet in a vertical jump. Think about that. Look at a basketball backboard and the square in particular. Then look eight inches above that square. That's the 12-foot mark. In this year's NBA Draft pre-camp only one player could do that.
Vonleh is doing it as a 17-year-old. He came to Indiana eight weeks ago weighing 231 pounds. That was 21 pounds more than he weighed at the beginning of his senior season in high school. Eight weeks after arriving at IU, Vonleh weighs 241. Jackson said he doesn't want Vonleh to gain any more weight. He thinks that's a good place for him to be.
"His strength is ridiculous and his vertical, he touched over 12 feet,'' Jackson said. "And he's at 240 pounds. There are not a lot of 240-pound college basketball players . Especially not ones that are 17 years old. So Noah doesn't really need to get bigger, he needs to get stronger. So I'm going to work with him when he gets back to keep his body weight the same but to increase his strength and his explosiveness.
Jackson was asked just how good physically Vonleh is for a freshman.
"It's ridiculous,'' Jackson said. "He's a lean guy. And at 241 pounds to be that big and athletic and agile as he is is impressive. In conditioning he's not running at the back, he's trying to win everything. There are times when I'm screaming at Yogi (Ferrell), ‘How is a 240-pound guy ahead of you?' in the conditioning. He's different. That's all I can say. He's different.''
Jackson said he has been very impressed with Indiana's incoming group of freshmen for a lot of reasons. They work hard, have each others' backs and have gotten close very quickly.
"The biggest difference with this group and it's crazy because we have kids from all over is how these kids have jelled together,'' Jackson said. "To see these kids, and to see them talking with each other and communicating with each other on and off the court is great. I'll ask them ‘So what are you guys doing tonight?' and they'll say, ‘We're going to a movie, coach.' They're always together. That's probably been the biggest thing.
"The other thing is how quickly they have bought in to what we're doing and how quickly they've bought in to the team aspect of everything. There are things that we do that are as simple as we're not going to leave the court until we've completed them. So if one guy has to help another guy out, he does. Say one guy has to hold another guys' legs up. They bought into that just like that. They've rallied around each other. That's the biggest difference with these guys. They're not out for themselves. They are truly wanting to see each other succeed.''
Jackson said he has had a lot of time to get to know this group of players better. He has them over to his house from time to time and just has one rule: no cell phones. He wants their undivided attention. He said one night he just had the freshman over and said it was quite an experience.
"Earlier this summer, it was a cool night and we sat out by the fire pit and roasted hot dogs,'' Jackson said. "It was totally out of the ordinary for these guys to be making smores and things like that. Like Troy Williams said, ‘I didn't even know you could roast a hot dog.' Things like that.
"When you show the guys that you truly care about them. To get them to understand that one as a person and two as a player, then they'll tend to do whatever you want. Then when you do get on them they know that there's a reason why. They know that ‘he's not just yelling to be yelling.' I make sure to explain to them after I've gotten all over them why I did.''
Follow Terry Hutchens at Twitter.com/foxsportshutch.