BLOOMINGTON — Assume, for just a moment, that guard James Blackmon returns to Indiana basketball for his final season.
Given he's entered the NBA draft, this is not etched in stone, but he has not signed with an agent, is not invited to the upcoming NBA Combine in Chicago, and does not project to get drafted, although playing overseas is a strong possibility.
What kind of impact could the former Bishop Luers standout make in new coach Archie Miller's system?
Miller got a significant view during spring workouts.
“James Blackmon's probably the best shooter I've ever been around, just in terms of what we were able to accomplish with him in three weeks and watching him work out in our framework and watching him shoot and do some of the things that he did, and looking at his numbers,” Miller says. “It's probably the best numbers I've seen in my time doing some of the stuff that we were doing.”
This isn't surprising given Blackmon's career numbers — 16.3 points, 45.2 percent shooting, 41.5 percent three-point shooting, 82.4 percent free throw shooting. His 205 three-pointers rank third in school history behind A.J. Gutyon's 283 and Jordan Hulls' 254.
As far as defense (inconsistent), decision making (he has eight more turnovers than assists in his career) and full-throttle effort (inconsistent), a new coach could make a huge difference.
IU is set to lose two veterans to the NBA draft in forwards OG Anunoby and Thomas Bryant. Blackmon and fellow guard Robert Johnson are in the draft, and have until May 24 to decide whether or not to return to school.
Johnson, who also hasn't signed with an agent and doesn't project to get drafted, also made a strong spring impression. He set career highs by averaging 12.8 points and 4.4 rebounds this past season.
“Rob also shot the ball particularly well this spring, and he's in tremendous shape,” Miller says. “Great character level.”
One veteran who will return is senior swingman Collin Hartman. He missed all of last season with a knee injury.
It's hard to overstate the importance of having Hartman back, not so much for his on-court production, although that could be significant, as for his leadership, passion, resiliency and drive.
“Collin and I had a number of talks,” Miller says. “Everything that stands out, everything that was told to me about him as a person, as a leader, as a key cog in the program's wheel, was true.
“It didn't take long to figure out what he's about, what he's been through, and what he wants to be about, which is a better finish (to his career). It's an opportunity to help establish something here on the front end where he can be attached to something new.
“He's been good. He's really good.”
In his first three seasons the 6-7 Hartman played basically every position. As a junior he averaged 5.0 points and 3.1 rebounds. He had 60 assists to 37 turnovers, which is huge given how often IU turned the ball over under former coach Tom Crean. He also shot 84.2 percent from the line, and is a 40 percent career three-point shooter.
Hartman made a strong recovery from knee surgery as a freshman, and is doing the same thing again.
“He's worked very, very hard in rehab,” Miller says. “He's got a long way to go. He's chosen to stay here all summer and not take any time away. He's chosen to stay here all summer and continue to rehab and stay on campus with our staff. I think that's going to be a big help for us as we continue to build towards the summertime when everybody's here. He's going to have a really good feel for what we're doing.”
As far as spring workouts, Miller says, “He participated in workouts this spring. He didn't miss one.
“He's sort of on an every-other-day approach, not an everyday approach. We limited all contact in the spring. He was basically in a functional basketball workout setting, no competition. As far as competition and contact, I'm not in a rush. I don't think anyone's in a rush to put him in that situation. The goal will be for him in November to feel as good as he can when we get ready to start the season.”
Then there is junior forward Juwan Morgan. If he can stay healthy, he could have a big season. In his last nine games this past season, he averaged 11 points and six rebounds. Overall, he averaged 7.7 points and 5.6 rebounds while shooting 54.8 percent from the field. He's a 75.4 percent career free throw shooter.
“Juwan has a chance to be a special player,” Miller says. “He could be another guy with an opportunity to really break out as a player with how we play. Watching his skill set and what he's doing with the ball in his hands, he could really blossom.”
While Miller says all the players thrived in the spring, two others who really stood out were guards Devonte Green and Josh Newkirk. Green averaged 4.4 points this past season. Newkirk averaged 9.0 and led IU with 108 assists as the point guard.
“I was surprised I hadn't seen Devonte play a lot,” Miller says. “Just in watching our workouts with him, he's sort of been in the mode of some of the guys I've coached in the past. He's got some stuff to him. He's physical. He can really get to the rim. We need guys like that.
“Josh is a tremendous worker. All these guys have been in the gym extra, but I think Josh really communicated that. He had a vibe about him when he showed up that the workouts were important.”
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