Bloomington – Verdell Jones' recent open gym journey down the lane might not compare to the Jordan Crawford-LeBron James incident earlier this summer, but it certainly got Derek Elston's attention.
In a game that featured both current and former IU players, Elston said Jones drove the lane in the direction of both Bobby Capobianco and D.J. White. The Hoosier sophomore elevated, apparently looking to finish with an authoritative dunk over the big men according to Elston's recollection.
"I thought he was going to get it," Elston said.
There was no dunk, though, as Jones was ultimately fouled by one of the two bigs. Capobianco shrugged off the notion that IU's slender sophomore guard had a chance to finish in that way against both he and White, but did say the play was representative of the fact that even in open gym, buckets aren't going to come easily no matter who it's against.
"Everything is contested," Capobianco said. "There have been missed dunks, there have been dunks, there have been layups, but everything is contested. No one is going to let you walk and get an easy lane to the basket."
After last year's 6-25 campaign, the question on most fans' mind is how much better can this year's team be with the addition of six highly-regarded newcomers? Will they get back to the NCAA Tournament? Maybe the NIT? Is a .500 record more realistic? Or perhaps it's still going to take another year before the Hoosiers are ready to get back to either of those levels?
IU's freshmen might be, well, freshmen, but they were smart enough Thursday to not make any preseason predictions about how many wins this year's team can muster.
The one thing they were willing to say, though, was that this team will be markedly improved from the one IU put on the floor a year ago.
"I think we're going to be a lot better than people think," Jordan Hulls said.
"I'm not going to throw out a number of wins, but I think we'll be 10-fold better than last year," Capobianco said.
"We're going to be very improved," said Watford. "The players who went through that last year, they have a lot of experience and they've offered a lot of wisdom and stuff like that. Once we get together and gel, we'll make some noise in the Big Ten."
The reasons for the improvement isn't just their arrival, but the improvement of the returning players as well. Verdell Jones was singled out by each of the freshmen as a standout in open gym workouts, and Elston also pointed to the challenge of trying to match-up with Tom Pritchard, who has 25-30 pounds on him despite Elston's added weight.
"People will pull out a shot, a move, something that you haven't seen before," Capobianco said. "Particularly for us freshmen, since we haven't seen the guys that have been here or the guys that we're here playing with. Someone will do something and and you'll be like, ‘Whooah! I didn't know they had that in the bag.'"
Indiana's freshman class is getting very well acquainted with each other.
Not only have Elston, Capobianco, Hulls and Watford been around each other regularly for open gym and conditioning work outs ever since they arrived on campus for the second summer session, they also see each other when they leave Assembly Hall. Elston and Hulls are roommates, while Watford and Capobianco are paired together for the upcoming year.
"We're always hanging together, we live together, eat, sleep, go everywhere together," Watford said of himself and the fellow freshmen. "We have a great bond."
Hulls and Capobianco have been long-time acquaintances from their time together on the Indiana Elite One AAU squad, while Hulls and Elston were teammates on this past summer on the Indiana All-Star team. The paths of all four have crossed on the AAU circuit, and now they're friendships are growing even stronger.
"I have lived in Ohio for the last four years, but before that I would consider myself from the South," Capobianco said. "Christian being from Alabama, we can talk about our favorite foods, where the best place is to get sweet tea in Bloomington."
Considering how much time the quartet is spending together these days, Capobianco's preference for where to get his sweet tea made perfect sense.
"It might be at the Hulls' residence," Capobianco said. "Jordan's mom makes a bad thing of sweet tea."
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