Most Valuable Vaden?

BLOOMINGTON-When it comes to the play of Robert Vaden, Mike Davis could do without the passive and wants to see some more of the aggressive.

BLOOMINGTON-When it comes to the play of Robert Vaden, Mike Davis could do without the passive and wants to see some more of the aggressive.

The Hoosier head coach has been in Vaden's ear in recent weeks to be more than just a piston in the Hoosiers' offensive engine. Instead, Davis believes his 6'5", 224-pound sophomore has the abilities to be one of the Big Ten's most dangerous and versatile playmakers, someone that can hurt teams inside and out, with the ball in his hands or not.

That's if he'd just give himself the latitude to be that sort of player.

"I've been saying from day one that Vaden is too unselfish," said Davis.

What Davis wants, though, isn't for Vaden to launch shots indiscriminately every time he touches the ball. Instead, it's more of a controlled aggression that he seeks, one that is every bit as much about setting up his teammates as it is about setting up himself.

"He's not necessarily looking for me to shoot more shots," said Vaden. "It's about playing hard on offense and trying to create shots for my teammates. It's about creating more opportunities for our team to score, not just for me to score."

Vaden has done exactly that in Indiana's last two games. He scored a career-high 22 in Indiana's 17-point win over Butler Dec. 23, then matched that with 22 more in the Hoosiers' 24-point victory at Ball State. He's shooting nearly 70 percent (16-of-23) during those two games, including a perfect 10-of-10 from behind the 3-point arc.

But the increased point production hasn't come at the expense of his all-around play. The team's leader in assists this season, Vaden averaged 4.5 handouts in those two contests to go along with 5.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals, giving Davis exactly what he's been looking for.

"This is the way we expect him to play," said Davis.

Davis might be aware of the Vaden's value to the team's success, but the national spotlight has shined brightest on the play of Indiana's big men, Marco Killingsworth and now D.J. White. While that duo has entered the "best frontcourts in college basketball" discussion, the secret to Indiana's offensive success might just be Vaden.

After all, this is a player that has already played power forward, small forward and shooting guard this season, and Davis said he'll likely add some point guard duties to his job description once Big Ten play opens as well.

"It's tough for anyone to guard him because the way he can shoot the basketball and he has the highest basketball I.Q. of anyone on our team," said Davis.

While Vaden's basketball IQ hasn't been in question since he arrived in Bloomington in the fall of 2004, his shooting stroke hadn't been as good as rumored. Vaden shot just 37.6 percent from the floor a year ago and 36 percent from behind the 3-point arc, numbers that didn't mirror what he'd done while leading Indianapolis' Pike H.S. to the 2003 state title and then at Bridgton (Me.) Academy the following season.

Those shooting struggles, though are a suddenly a thing of the past. Vaden ranks second on the team in scoring (14.9) and is shooting 52.3 percent from the floor and 52.1 percent from behind the 3-point arc, thanks in large part to those 10 straight makes from deep in the last two games. That includes a 6-for-6 effort against Ball State that eclipsed the Indiana school record for single-game 3-point perfection.

"That's the way he played at prep school with my son," said Davis. "(My son) Mike (Davis, Jr.) would say, ‘Dad, Robert made six in a row, seven in a row, eight in a row.'"

Vaden gives credit to new IU assistant coach Sidney Green for spending extra time with him and working on getting up more shots after practice, but he also realizes that his good fortune has been aided by good looks as well.

"We have D.J. and Marco down low, so once we get them the ball inside, they kick it out to us and it creates open shots for us," said Vaden. "When you take open shots, you have a better chance then when you're taking contested shots."

And Vaden is taking those shots. A year ago Davis said Vaden was content to defer to others on the offensive end, generally trying to fit in instead of stand out.

This year, he's doing both. And he's taking his team along for the ride.

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