BLOOMINGTON-In Indiana's two exhibitions of dominance, perhaps the most eye-opening effort was turned in by someone not named Marco Killingsworth.
While it was Killingsworth who was getting most of the attention after averaging 19.5 points and shooting 80 percent from the floor in lopsided wins over Indianapolis and St. Joseph's, Earl Calloway's numbers were every bit as staggering.
It's not the 3.0 points the 6-3, 175-pound point guard produced that caught everyone's attention. Instead it was the 15 assists and two turnovers in 50 combined minutes of up-tempo basketball that wowed on-lookers. That included Calloway's 10-assist, zero-turnover night against Indianapolis on Thursday, helping Indiana to a near 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio (26 assists, 9 turnovers).
"For Earl Calloway to have 10 assists and zero turnovers, that's pretty good," said IU Coach Mike Davis.
That's not only pretty good, it's a gross understatement. After all, this is an Indiana team that averaged a league-worst 11.9 assists a year ago, and had a negative assist-to-turnover ratio during its 15-14 campaign last winter.
But the additions of Calloway and Lewis Monroe to the point guard position have suddenly made what was a weakness in past year's a potential team strength this season. The point guard duo combined for 23 assists and only four turnovers in the two exhibition wins.
As good as Calloway and Monroe have been on the offensive end, their contributions are expected to be every bit as important on the defensive end as well. Monroe is a dogged defender, capable of guarding point guards as well as wings. Calloway, meanwhile, has the sort of quickness to keep the quickest of point guards in front of him, something Indiana hasn't been able to do in recent memory.
What Calloway is trying to do now, though, is reign himself in a bit.
"I'm used to taking a lot more risks (than the coaching staff wants me to)," said Calloway. "I'm used to gambling. But it's a team game, so we have to stay solid as a team. If I gamble, I put my other teammates at risk, so I'm trying to not do that."
Instead of focusing on poking balls away from ball handlers and shooting the passing lanes, Calloway says his focus has been on the fundamentals of solid defensive play.
"I'm working on gap defense and help side stuff," said Calloway. "When the ball is on the opposite side, you need to be in the middle of the lane, ready to help your teammate. If his man drives, I want to be able to step in a take a charge."
There's been a lot of attention on Indiana's newfound ability to push the pace and attack teams in transition, but to be able to do that Calloway and his teammate know they have to be able to get stops on the defensive end to create fast-break opportunities.
Calloway believes the team has the pieces in place to be very good on that end of the court.
"If we continue to work hard, we can be one of the best defensive teams in the country," said Calloway. "Coach is stressing the fact that as good as he wants us to be on offense, he wants us to be that good on defense, too."
The first two exhibition wins suggest Indiana can be very good on both ends of the floor, even without A.J. Ratliff for a couple of games and D.J. White for the foreseeable future. Indiana hasn't deviated from its gameplan of pushing the pace on offense and pounding the ball inside, trying to generate its scoring chances by working the ball inside and then back out.
Calloway said that the team's goals remain the same, even with two potential starters currently on the sidelines.
"Not having them makes us work even harder," said Calloway. "We have to step up right now until they get back, and then when they get back we'll be even stronger team. We can't go down. We have to keep progressing.
"We know what our goal is, what our focus is – to win a Big Ten championship going to the NCAA Championship, so we're going to keep focused and stay positive."
The production of the players like Calloway give reason to believe that Indiana must be able to absorb those early-season injuries and be even better for it by the time February and March roll around.
"Other players have chances to step in on the first team and get to know the offense, so when their time is called on, they can come in and help the team," said Calloway.
Calloway is already doing just that.
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