Bloomington –Derek Elston and the rest of the IU freshman basketball class had one question they didn't have to ask when they arrived on campus this summer.
Are they going play this year?
Are they ever.
While the contributions of freshmen is often in doubt, there's no doubting that Indiana's entire top-10 ranked Class of 2009 is going to play a significant role this season.
"We're going to play – them freshmen, everyone is going to play," Elston said. "How much time we get, Coach (Tom) Crean is going to put the five best on the floor."
Some might argue that the five best on the floor could result in two or three or even four first-year players being in the starting lineup as the season goes along. Christian Watford and Maurice Creek (assuming he's cleared soon to join the program) are the two newcomers that have generated the most buzz as potential starters from day one, but that doesn't mean Elston, Bobby Capobianco, Jordan Hulls or Bawa Muniru should be ruled out as a possibility as well.
After all, each member of IU's Class of 2009 brings some component that seemed to be lacking at different times a year ago, and all will be given every opportunity to show they're capable to making a big impact immediately. That might seem to be a heavy burden for the freshman class to shoulder, but it's one that they welcome.
"I think what we have here is a lot of guys that wanted to be in that situation (of potentially starting right away)," Hulls said. "We also have a lot of guys that will take the bench and if you play you play. It's not who starts the game, it's who finishes, really."
As difficult as last season was for the players, coaches and fans to endure, one thing that it did do was enable Crean and his coaching staff to recruit top-level prospects with the suggestion that they'd be able to step in and be major contributors right away. Indiana has had only three freshmen lead the team in scoring in the last 20 years (Eric Gordon – 2008; Bracey Wright – 2003; Calbert Cheaney – 1990), and it's possible a player could add his name to that list this season.
"I expect to be a big contributor for the team – defensively, offensively, in a lot of different ways," Watford said.
How big of a contribution they make will depend not only on how quickly they learn Crean's system, but also what sort of improvement the returnees have made in the off-season. Verdell Jones was singled out by each of the freshmen for the impression he's made on them during open gym workouts, and Tom Pritchard has had a full off-season to add more size to his already solid frame.
There's also junior Jeremiah Rivers, the Georgetown transfer who is now eligible to play, plus last year's leading scorer Devan Dumes who also shouldn't be forgotten.
"For us freshmen, to start would be great, but it's really competitive," Hulls said. "The older guys aren't going to just give it to us. They've worked their butts off, and it's going to be a lot of hard work for us to come in and start right away. But I think all of us are capable of doing that."
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