Bloomington, Ind. – It's been a long road to 60 percent for Armon Bassett.
The Hoosiers' sophomore point guard injured his ankle midway through the second half of the Dec. 29 win over Chicago State and has been dealing with bone chips ever since. The ankle kept him sidelined during practice for the better part of two weeks and off the floor for all but three minutes in IU's first two games before his return Sunday against Illinois.
In an effort to nurse him back to health, Bassett said the medical staff was administering treatment three to four times per day and even tried a shot to ease his discomfort. That helped him ease his way back the practice late last week, and it soon became apparent to Coach Kelvin Sampson he'd be able to return to the floor Sunday.
"I thought Friday he'd play," said Sampson, who added Bassett's first day back at practice was last Thursday. "You couldn't go on (how he felt) Thursday because you didn't know how it would feel Friday."
Despite estimating his health at just 60 percent afterwards, Bassett played 18 minutes off the bench and contributed 11 critical second-half points in the Hoosiers' 62-58 win over Illinois. While a trio of second-half 3-pointers were huge, so was his on-the-ball defensive effort as well, which kick-started the Hoosiers on that end of the court in the game's final 10 minutes.
With Bassett on the floor the Hoosiers were better on both ends, which didn't come as any surprise to Sampson.
"Armon has been in those situations before," Sampson said. "Jordan (Crawford) hasn't."
With Bassett sidelined, freshman Jordan Crawford has been the team's primary point guard in the last three games. After excelling off the bench for most of the season, Crawford has struggled in the first three Big Ten games, averaging 9.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 3.7 turnovers while shooting just 35 percent from the floor.
"Jordan is a good player," Sampson said. "But you're going to have nights where guys don't play well."
That's why Bassett's return – whether he's 100 percent or not – is huge for the Hoosiers, who now have another ball handler to lean on. He also has another valuable asset that he can rely on as well – experience.
"He has two years in Coach Sampson's system, and that helps a lot," said senior D.J. White. "He knows what coach expects."
What Sampson expects is someone who can get the ball to people where they need it offensively, and someone who leads the team on the defensive end with plenty of ball pressure.
Those are things Bassett has brought to the table for his first 1 ½ seasons in an IU uniform.
"I bring toughness and ball pressure," Bassett said. "Right now it's more toughness because I can't move that good side to side on my ankle. But I told Coach Sampson when I got healthy I'd change our defense back around. I was committed when I came back from my suspension, that's what I was going to concentrate on – my defensive presence and hitting open shots and taking good shots."
While Indiana has a couple of potential All-Americans in Eric Gordon and White, Sampson has always insisted the most important player on the floor is the point guard, and he knows how important it is to this team's success for Bassett to be able to play.
"Armon started almost every game last year," said Sampson. "He handles some things. We had some guys (against Illinois) who didn't handle some things very good. That's why it's nice to have some veterans."
He'll lean on those veterans again Thursday, when IU goes on the road to take on Minnesota at Williams Arena at 9 p.m. Indiana has lost seven out of its last eight against the Gophers in Minneapolis, but they need a win to keep pace with Wisconsin for the Big Ten lead.
It's unclear whether Bassett will start for the first time since the Big Ten opener at Iowa, but even at less than 100 percent Bassett figures to be a big part of the success the Hoosiers hope to have Thursday as well as for the rest of the season.
"Hopefully I can get in the mid 20s (for minutes) until I get about 80 percent," said Bassett. "But as long as he puts me out there I'll play."
Bassett's Presence Critical for Hoosiers
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