The Indiana Hoosiers, with this season following 2003-2004's first losing season since 1969-1970, face tremendous pressure to step up their game. Though returning shooting guard Bracey Wright, point guard Marshall Strickland, and a host of others who are all expected to lead the Hoosiers to an NCAA appearance. However, both fans and skeptics are anxious to see what this season's freshman will bring to the table. With IU boasting one of the top recruiting classes in the country, all eyes are on guard A.J. Ratliff, guard/forward Robert Vaden, forward D.J. White, forward James Hardy, and forward/center Lucas Steijn to help the Hoosiers get over the hump that was the 2003-2004 season.
North Central's A. J. Ratliff, The Indianapolis Star's Mr. Basketball for the 2003-2004 season, will provide support for the Hoosiers' backcourt. Averaging 19 points and 5.7 rebounds, A. J. Ratliff lead the North Central Panthers to a record of 21-4 for the 2003-2004 season. Combine Ratliff's personal dedication to the game with his noteworthy 39-inch vertical leap, measured wing-span at 6-11, sweet jump shot, and superior court vision, and the Hoosiers receive a much needed guard presence off the bench.
Robert Vaden of Bridgton Academy in Maine has an ability to shoot the ball that separates him from many other players. Playing for three different schools during his high school career, Vaden holds impressive records for each. Averaging 13.5 points with 6 rebounds and 3 assists for Indianapolis' Cathedral, Vaden also made his mark at Indianapolis' Pike and Maine's Bridgton Academy. Vaden, possessing an ideal basketball body with an exceptional first step to the basket, may start alongside Bracey Wright and Marshall Strickland, both two-year starters. Though Vaden has the versatility to play many positions well, he will contribute mostly as a small forward this season.
A very likely starter for this season, Alabama's D. J. White of Hillcrest will provide a 6-foot 7-inch 235 pound big body for the Hoosiers inside with his phenomenal face up game and impressive post moves. He plays well against larger opponents and positions himself well on both ends of the floor. White, said to be the most important player on this year's team, must provide the Hoosiers with their almost non-existent low-post presence. Averaging 20 points a game his senior year, White sets his goal as Big Ten Freshman of the Year, an award dominated by IU players in the past.
Elmhurst's James Hardy of Fort Wayne, IN, who originally signed a letter of intent to play Indiana football, is a walk-on for the men's basketball program. A remarkable wide receiver in high school, Hardy is also a surprisingly strong basketball player despite his rather slender 6-foot 7-foot 180 pound build. Averaging 23 points in high school, Hardy holds most of Fort Wayne's scoring marks. His flexibility as a player, excellent court vision, and long range shot will prove to be an asset to the Hoosiers.
Shortly after 7-foot 1-inch Robert Rothbart decided on short notice to play professionally in Europe, Coach Mike Davis and the Indiana Hoosiers were in desperate need of a big body. Coach Davis found the solution in 6-foot 10-inch Lucas Steijn, said to be a hard worker and an outstanding shot blocker. Steijn, from Muiderberg, Netherlands, averaged 12 points and 8 rebounds for the 19-8 Notre Dame Academy of Virginia. Turning down offers from Tulane, Miami of Florida, St. Bonaventure and Wyoming, Lucas rented the movie ‘Hoosiers' to better acquaint himself with Indiana basketball. Steijn, who many predict will be redshirted, will provide the Hoosiers with the physical inside presence they need when he's ready.
It's a group of young men that could contribute quickly to the Indiana cause. Vaden and White are expected to start for the Hoosier team that will be without true Senior leadership on the court. All of the freshman have excellent physical talent, but must gel and work as a team to succeed. James Hardy will not join the team until after the football season is over, as he is signed to a football scholarship. The young Hoosiers will begin their season tonight with an exhibition game against Bellarmine, and the real season begins at home on the 23rd against Indiana State.
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