Bloomington, Ind. – Earl Calloway's first memory of Indiana basketball came in 2001. While sitting in the bleachers rooting on his former high school teammate A.J. Moye, Calloway witnessed one of the more memorable moments in the last decade of Indiana basketball.
"I didn't find out about IU until later when I came to see Moye play Michigan State," said Calloway. "That's when they were No.1 in the county. When (IU) won on (Kirk) Haston's shot, I remember people raiding the floor and jumping up on the scorer's table. It was exciting. It was amazing.
"I knew I wanted to play at that level of basketball. I wanted to play major D-I basketball and that's what clicked it for me to work even harder."
Calloway got his chance last season to play at that level for the Hoosiers, but he will see a far more important role this season. The 6-3 senior point guard will be expected to lead the Indiana offensive and defensive attacks while also nurturing future point guard Armon Bassett.
"Earl does a good job," said senior guard Roderick Wilmont. "He makes sure to keep us all on the same page. Being the point guard is obviously a big responsibility because you have to make sure you're playing good and the team is playing good. That's what he is trying to do right now."
First-year head coach Kelvin Sampson plans on Calloway being the most important piece of the offense this season, a huge step up for a player who started just 14 games last year and saw his minutes fluctuate throughout season.
However, Calloway has shown he can handle the pressure of big games, setting career highs in scoring, rebounds, assists and steals in the 2006 NCAA Tournament and leading Hoosier rallies in non-conference losses to Duke and Connecticut last season. He was one rebound away from a triple-double in Indiana's second-round NCAA tourney loss to Gonzaga, with 13 points, 10 assists and nine boards.
"Earl is going to be the key to our team," said sophomore center Ben Allen. "He's going to be leading our team and he'll have to be the glue to keep our team together. If Earl can keep doing that it's really going to teach Armon what he needs to do. Even halfway through the year when Armon is on the court, he's going to have to show what he's learned."
Sampson knows he will have to lean on his point guard this season with 13 players who have seen little time on the court together. Calloway will take over a leadership role that was relinquished by the graduation of Marshall Strickland and Lewis Monroe and will have to find a way to get the team to follow him.
"Coach is trying to help me lead the team," said Calloway. "The point guard has to be the leader. He's going to get on me and Armon just to make sure we're tough mentally. We need to go out and help the other four guys on the floor become better players."
Almost more important for Sampson and the Hoosier fanbase will be Calloway's mentoring skills. With all of his experience, Calloway will be expected to teach Bassett the tricks of the trade so he can lead an Indiana team that should feature an upperclassman leader in D.J. White, arguably the top freshman in the nation shooting guard Eric Gordon and what has the potential to be a top-five recruiting class.
With an experienced point guard, albeit a sophomore point guard, Sampson could have himself in line to challenge for the Big Ten in just his second season. That is a tough situation for senior guard like Calloway who will not be around for that title run.
"I think it emphasizes that Armon is going to have to develop those leadership skills early," said Allen. "So when Earl leaves next year he'll already have them instilled in him. It makes Armon's awareness higher that he has to learn it all so quickly."
Knowing he has a greater responsibility to Indiana basketball than just his play on the court, Calloway is adapting well to the situation. Instead of feeling the pressure, he's rejoicing in the role.
"I just tell (Armon) to go out there and work hard, that's the main thing," said Calloway. "If you don't work hard you get accustomed to being lazy. Then when the game time situation comes you're not able to perform how you want to because you haven't been working hard at practice. You're going to make mistakes, I still make mistakes. But if you work hard, play hard, you're going to be fine."
Even with both guards learning Sampson's new system, Calloway's experience has benefited Bassett already in just the first two weeks of practice.
"I just tell him who to pass it to, when to pass it," said Calloway. "What time in the situation he should attack, when to pull it out, just normal things that I went through and still go through. We've talked about how to prepare for games, how to prepare for practice.
"Armon is the same as me, vocal. We have to be vocal. We have to call the plays, call out our man and call out transition defenses. We have to be vocal. We are the leaders of this team."
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