Tim Buckley isn't surprised. The Indiana associate head basketball coach is well aware of what Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo can do.
So when the former Indiana Hoosiers excelled in physical testing during last weekend's NBA Combine in Chicago, Buckley went into told-you-so mode, inspired by the criticism Zeller faced after March's Sweet 16 loss to Syracuse.
“Some of that stuff, in my opinion, was overstated,” Buckley said before Tuesday's IU Tailgate Tour event at Ceruti's. “I thought Cody had a great season
“You look at Cody Zeller and we had 12 wins the year before he got there and then we had 27 and 29 wins with him. If you weren't sure about how well Cody can play, go back to the last four minutes of the Michigan game to win the Big Ten title. That will show you everything you need to know about Cody Zeller.”
Zeller and Oladipo stayed at IU after declaring themselves for the NBA draft to finish their semester academic obligations as well as work with coach Tom Crean, strength coach Je'Ney Jackson and the rest of the Hoosier staff.
“They did a terrific job of preparing themselves,” Buckley said. “Coach Jackson did a great job of getting them ready. They're continuing to work out.
“One thing about an Indiana player -- they're going to know how to work. They're not going to shy away from it. They haven't reached their ceiling yet. They're going to be great players and contributors in the NBA.”
So how does IU follow consecutive Sweet 16 appearances, the first outright Big Ten title in a generation and 10 weeks worth of No. 1 rankings?
Not with concession.
“It's a great challenge in that you never really know what you have until you get them together and start to put the team together,” Buckley said. “If everyone buys in to what their jobs are, and they get locked into that and do it well, we become a great defensive team, deflect the ball and turn our defense into offense. Then we have a chance to make up for some things we lost."
Indiana lost a lot in Zeller and Oladipo, projected to be NBA lottery picks, as well as starters Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford, plus key reserves Derek Elston, Maurice Creek and Remy Abell.
Still, the talent pool is far from dry.
“We'll be more athletic and longer," Buckley said. "We have to trade that for experience, but I think that we can make progress over the summer because we get a chance to work with them.”
Figure Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey will set the tone. Ferrell was the starting point guard as a freshman. Sheehey was the Big Ten's sixth man of the year, an off-the-bench force set to finally crack the starting lineup.
The key, Buckley said, is the summer.
“It's very important. They know what the culture is. They know what it's like. I think we're going to have good leadership. It might be different, but good. Yogi kind of played that role for us this year. He didn't play like a freshman at all. He understands what it's like.
“Will understands what it's like. He was the Big Ten's sixth man of year and probably could have started for everybody in the league as well as us.”
IU also will need forwards Jeremy Hollowell and Hanner Perea to go from limited to significant roles after a freshman season of growing pains.
“Jeremy had to go through some tough things,” Buckley said. “That will make him better.
“I just hope that Hanner has watched a lot of (Chicago Bulls forward) Joakim Noah video in getting ready for next year. If he plays with that kind of energy, with his athleticism he can influence the game on the defensive end and help us as well.”
IU coaches worked with players during the spring, and will resume workouts next month.
“We're in the midst of a break," Buckley said, "but we were able to work them out before they went home. They'll be back in June and we'll get eight weeks with the returning guys and six with the new guys.
“Leading up to that, Yogi and Will and Hanner and Jeremy and the others had expanded their games. They knew what they needed to work on when they left us. We're looking forward to seeing them come back and ready to go.”
IU gained some valuable experience by signing fifth-year senior guard Evan Gordon. He was a double figure scorer at Liberty University and Arizona State before transferring for his final season. He's the younger brother of former Hoosier All-America Eric Gordon.
“It's a great addition for us,” Buckley said. “He's a veteran. He's a guy who's been through it. He played at a high level in the Pac-12. He really showed great promise. He's a guy we feel is going to contribute because of his ability to understand how to play at this level.”
Gordon has played both point and shooting guard, and likely will do the same for the Hoosiers.
“He's a basketball player," Buckley said. "He shot 35 percent from three. He's also a guy who played the point guard position for them. The more guys you have on the floor who can handle the ball and get in the pick and roll, with the style we like to play, the better.
“When we watched film, he did a great job of making good decisions and making the right play, whether it was make the pass, make the drive, take the shot. He's been coached very well. Obviously he has great blood lines and we're excited to have him at Indiana.”
IU has once again signed one of the nation's top recruiting classes. Forward Noah Vonleh, center Luke Fischer, swingmen Devin Davis and Collin Hartman, and guards Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson will be expected to help fill the void from all the player losses.
Do the Hoosiers need them to make instant impact?
“It depends on how you classify impact,” Buckley said. “If they come in and do what they do, really well, then that could be an impact. If they try to do too much, you can hurt yourself. That's the stuff we'll learn through the summer. See what they can and can't do. Enhance their strengths and really try to attack their weaknesses and try to get them to blend in as a team.”
Fort Wayne has been good to Indiana over the years, and remains so. Heralded Bishop Luers guard James Blackmon is set to join the Hoosiers in the Class of 2014.
That reflects Crean's commitment to recruiting the state hard even while making a push into other areas around the country, including the East Coast.
“It's Fort Wayne and the entire state,” Buckley said. “We feel very strongly about the state of Indiana. We also feel strongly about the surrounding area, and we've been able to reach out in certain pockets around the country. We're trying to find the best player-student-person available and this area has been profitable to Indiana and will be in the future.”