Just one season into his college career, sophomore Robert Vaden is already one of the most experienced players on the Indiana Hoosiers.
Vaden – an Big Ten All-Freshman team selection a year ago - was an instant starter for Coach Mike Davis and played in all 29 games, starting every contest.
"Just to get that experience last season was big for me," said Vaden, who was one of only two Hoosiers to start all 29 contests. "Even though we haven't played a game yet this season, I know what to expect when the season starts. As a team we can go hard for the entire 40 minutes because we have so many guys who can step in and play."
Vaden gained that experience last season when he led the Hoosiers in minutes played with 980 minutes. That experience has him well prepared for his sophomore campaign.
"I think the experience I got last season is a big advantage for me," said Vaden. "Most freshmen come in and play about 10-15 minutes a game. I played the most minutes on the team last season. It was almost like I was a sophomore last year. I'm coming into this season like I'm a veteran or an upperclassmen."
Contributing right from the beginning, Vaden helped the Hoosiers by playing both his natural wing position and in the post at times. His stellar defense helped him pick up 1.55 steals a game, fifth best in the Big Ten.
"I'm going to work as hard as I can to be defensive player of the year in the Big Ten," said Vaden. "I was nominated for it last year and I feel like I can get to that level. We have enough guys on this team who can score. I'm going out there and trying to play the best defense on this team."
Vaden may be proud of his defense, but his offense was also a big lift for Indiana last season. He was the third-leading scorer on a team that finished fourth in the Big Ten. Vaden averaged 10.2 points a game, trailing only Bracey Wright's 18.3 and D.J. White's 13.3.
While the double-figure scoring was welcomed, Vaden would like to improve dramatically on his shooting percentage, which was just 37.6 percent (100-of-266) a season ago.
"I worked on my shooting during the summer," said Vaden. "There's always room for improvement in your shooting game. Then I was making sure my ball-handling improved. And of course I worked on my defense because that's the part of my game I take the most pride in."
Vaden is one of four starters returning from last season's 15-14 squad. With the addition of Auburn transfers Marco Killingsworth and Lewis Monroe, Vaden is excited about the season Indiana could have.
"I'm very excited about this year," said Vaden. "We have a good group of guys and everybody likes each other. Every time we get out on the court we come out with a lot of energy. I feel good about this season."
With Killingsworth in the paint, Vaden should be able to move back to his natural wing position and get plenty of open shots. There were numerous times last season that Vaden was forced to play at power forward, often forcing him to give up four or five inches and 20-25 pounds to his opponent.
"I'm very excited to have Marco and D.J. in the post," said Vaden. "I feel like I can do a lot more for this team. I'll be able to drive to the basket, kick it back out to the wing and find the open guys. I feel a lot more comfortable on the wing, so I think I'll be able to have a better season.
"Coach Davis told me I'll be solely a wing this season. If he needs me to play forward I can do it, I have the experience. But I'm more comfortable and better suited for the wing."
Being part of a very experienced group with a lot of talent has Vaden and the rest of the Hoosiers thinking less about making the NCAA Tournament and more about winning the Big Ten Conference. With two straight seasons without playing in the NCAA Tournament, the pressure continues to mount on the Indiana program.
"I feel like we can be one of the best teams in the country," said Vaden. "We feel like the sky is the limit right now. We have a good group of guys. We have youth, but experience. We have a strong senior class that can get it done.
"This is Indiana basketball. There's always going to be pressure to win."
Vaden Looking For a Sophomore Jump
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