Bloomington – Kyle Taber didn't see all of this coming from Tom Pritchard.
When Pritchard arrived in Bloomington last summer along with 10 other newcomers, Taber was certainly happy to have some company on the frontline as well as the IU roster. But the Hoosiers' lone senior wouldn't have predicted that Pritchard would be the team's most important offensive player.
"I didn't think it would be anything like that," Taber said.
After all, the 6'9" Pritchard arrived in town weighing a good bit more than his listed weight of 242 pounds. But IU strength and conditioning coach Jeff Watkinson worked him into shape, and Coach Tom Crean's staff has added new dimensions to his game.
"He didn't have as good a touch (in the summer) as he does now," Taber said. "He's worked on his right hand a lot this summer, which makes him an even better player. Now he can go both ways. It's definitely night and day."
That hard work by player and coaching staff alike has produced the most statistically productive freshman in the Big Ten. Pritchard leads conference freshmen in both scoring (14.1) and rebounding (7.8), and he leads Indiana in both categories as well as blocks (1.1) and field goal percentage (59.2 percent).
Pritchard will face a significant test this weekend when he's matched up opposite Kentucky's high-scoring forward Patrick Patterson, but the IU freshman has already been tested by an impressive list of opposing big men. Notre Dame's Luke Harangody (23.0 ppg, 12.0 rpg this season), Saint Joseph's Ahmad Nivins (18.8 ppg, 11.0 rpg) and Gonzaga's Josh Heytvelt (16.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg) are all players Pritchard has battled this season, suggesting that competition can't get much more difficult than it's already been for the Ohio native.
Pritchard has progressed to the point that many are now wondering exactly how good he can eventually become, including Crean.
"We're trying to work him as hard as anyone else," Crean said. "It's not like he has a tremendous amount of competition for minutes right now. He knows we need him on the floor, we want him on the floor. But we don't just want him to be a good player – we want him to be a great player. He's on the road to that."
Few would have expected Pritchard to be at this point for IU so quickly, perhaps even Pritchard himself. After all, he was never even the primary offensive weapon on his high school team until his senior season, and that only came about after current Michigan State freshman Delvon Roe was lost for the year with a knee injury.
But Pritchard has shown the sort of promise, potential and drive to lead Taber to believe that there are even bigger things ahead for his frontcourt mate later this season and during the next three years of his IU career.
"He's only scratched the surface of what he can do," Taber said.
Pritchard's Progress Like "Night and Day"
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