It's been quite the offseason for Indiana basketball newcomer Max Bielfeldt.
Since he arrived in Bloomington in June, Bielfeldt has improved his 3-point jump shot, added 140 pounds to his squat (giving him a school record of 410 pounds), and watched as much of his competition for minutes walked out the day.
Gone are Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Emmitt Holt and Devin Davis, three guys that figured to compete for the same minutes as Bielfeldt. Now, the Michigan graduate transfer figures to play an even bigger role in his final year of college basketball, both on and off the court.
"My role off the court is being a 22-year-old, a leader that's seen what it's been like to get to the Final Four, seen what it's been like to win a Big Ten championship," Bielfeldt said Thursday. "Just kind of be that voice in the locker room to kind of make everyone stay focused and on the right track, make sure everything's being done the right way."
Bielfeldt certainly brings experience, and like he said, he's been around Michigan teams that have had great success. But can he play the kind of role Tom Crean will need him to this season? Freshman McDonalds All-American Thomas Bryant figures to start at the five, but he has yet to play a college basketball game. Without guys like Mosquera-Perea, Davis and Holt in the program, Bielfeldt essentially becomes the next guy up.
If he's ready, great, it would be a neat story. If not, Crean will have no choice but to play even smaller than he did a year ago at times, or play Bryant heavy minutes in his freshman campaign. Neither is an ideal option, of course, which makes Bielfeldt's improvement that much more important.
He said he's spent signficant time working on his 3-point shot with Crean this offseason, and his incredible gains in his weight lifting show just how badly he wants this.
"Coach Crean and I have talked, and he's told me, 'Just come in here and don't have any hesitations,'" Bielfeldt said. "I'm only here for a year, so I don't really have time to be feeling things out or figure things out by January and start being a leader then. I've just tried to come in right away and share my experience, share that positive attitude."
Bielfeldt has already made his presence felt as a leader off the court, too, and an ambassador for the program he is just joining. Bielfeldt's handwritten letter to IU legend A.J. Guyton has made its rounds on Twitter, a small act that goes a long way in helping to rebuild the image of a proud program.
"I thought it was something that needed to be done, something that couldn't have anything but good outcomes," Bielfeldt said. "We felt as a program that it would be good to kind of address those issues."
It's been a busy and productive summer for Bielfeldt, who will have the rare experience of playing for two of the Big Ten's elite teams. He admitted playing for another school in the same conference was never something he thought he'd do, but Indiana was the right fit, and he's happy to be in Bloomington.
The last thing on his to-do list? Change his wardrobe.
"It's really weird," Bielfeldt said. "At Michigan, we weren't allowed to wear red. You'd get a brutal workout punishment if you wore red. So now I look in my closet and I'm like, 'I don't have a lot of red, do I?'"