On paper, you could say that Indiana’s three incoming freshmen that will join the IU basketball team in the fall made a favorable impression in front of many IU fans Saturday night at the Derby Festival Classic at Freedom Hall.
The statistics were impressive.
Thomas Bryant, the 6-10 McDonald’s All-American center, had 19 points to lead the Purple team to a 127-119 victory. Bryant hit 8-of-13 shots from the field, including 3-of-6 from 3-point range. He also had six rebounds, two blocks and one steal.
For his efforts, Bryant was named the most valuable player off the Purple team in the event.
His two future IU teammates were impressive as well for the Purple team. OG Anunoby had 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting. He missed his only 3-point attempt, hit all four of his free throws, had four rebounds, one assist and one steal.
Juwan Morgan also had 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting. He had six rebounds and two steals.
The total line for three future Indiana players was 43 points on 18-of-27 shooting.
But my first impressions live of the three players went a little bit beyond those numbers. Here is what I thought of each one.
In can be tough in an All-Star game setting to really get a good feel about a player. The game usually consists of lots of 3-point shots, a ton of dunks and relatively little defense. That was kind of what happened at the Derby Festival Classic Saturday night.
Bryant got off to a slow start in his first 5-minute run in the first quarter. The offense clearly wasn’t going through the post and that didn’t afford Bryant a lot of opportunities. It was when he decided to step out and look for his 3-point shot, however, that he seemed to get into an offensive rhythm.
Bryant made three of his first four 3-point attempts and then was able to pile up some points off of rebounds and slam dunks.
He did have one play, though, in the fourth quarter that really stood out for me. The Purple team had been ahead by more than 20 and the White team caught up and got to within a bucket late in the fourth quarter. At that point, Bryant appeared to want to initiate a little contact down low on offense as he established position. On two trips in a row, they fed the ball inside to him. The first time the ball got slapped away as he tried to take it to the hole. The second time, though, he caught the ball in the low block, took two dribbles and ultimately jammed it with authority.
In terms of the things he had to say afterwards, it was pretty much what I had heard him say in other interviews the last few weeks. He seemed humble and potentially a good teammate. He said he would like to stay at IU at least two years because he felt there were a lot of things in his game he needed to work on and he felt that Tom Crean had proven with Cody Zeller and Noah Vonleh that big men can get better within the IU system. He said he thought IU was the perfect place for him because he filled a need and hoped he could possibly be a missing piece that IU had a year ago.
Overall, I came away impressed with Bryant. He still needs to add some muscle but he has the kind of body coming into college that you hope your big man is going to have. That’s a good start for sure.
I must admit I’ve stared at his name a few times in print and wondered how you pronounced it.
The first name apparently is pronounced OH-GEE, as in rhyming with Yogi, at least that’s how people were calling him in the hallway at Freedom Hall as he came out of the locker room. I believe his last name is pronounced ON-YOU-NO-BEE.
More than the pronunciation of his name, however, I really liked OG’s game. Both he and Morgan impressed me in a certain way – They were always around the ball. I liked the way Anunoby really took it to the basket a few times. I think he got fouled both times but then calmly made all four free throws.
I left Freedom Hall thinking he was a guy who would be able to help Indiana right away next fall.
I had heard an interview where Morgan described himself as a garbage player. He liked to get in there and mix it up, dive for loose balls, slap rebounds to a teammate and hustle all over the floor.
That was the player I saw Saturday night.
He was everywhere but most importantly he was always near the ball. He would set a lot of high ball screens but quickly get into the paint. The majority of his points were from point blank range but that was because he was always near the ball.
He was another one who when he talked in his postgame remarks he was very humble and seemed to have really bought in to what he believes the three freshman can bring to the program.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect Saturday night in Louisville, but I can honestly say I left very impressed with this three-man recruiting class.