WASHINGTON, D.C.— It’s apparent the IU men’s basketball team doesn’t have Yogi Ferrell leading the way at point guard anymore.
The players know it, IU Coach Tom Crean knows it, and certainly all of Hoosier nation knows it.
Instead of trying to pinpoint one guy to be Ferrell’s replacement on this team, Crean is looking more toward a group effort coming from any source possible from the reigning Big Ten regular season champions.
The two players that first come to mind when thinking about replacing Ferrell at the point are the junior guard duo of James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson. However, the sometimes forgotten man that could provide a spark for the Hoosiers this season is transfer junior guard Josh Newkirk.
Newkirk transferred from Pittsburgh to IU at the end of his sophomore season with the Panthers. In two seasons, he averaged just over six points per game and two assists.
In May, before coming to Bloomington, the transfer had microfracture surgery on his left knee and took a redshirt season. However, he was able to return to full practice near the start of conference play and has proved himself to be at least in the discussion to play a major role at the top of the key this season.
“I feel like Indiana fans are going to love Josh because of his energy, how quick he is with the ball, how he defends,” Blackmon said. “I think that people are going to love him because he brings a lot to the team.”
Both Blackmon and Johnson spent this past offseason recovering from injuries. Knee surgery for Blackmon on Jan. 5 caused him to miss the remainder of the season, and an ankle injury for Johnson sustained on Feb. 20 lingered down the stretch, causing him miss the last four games for IU heading into the postseason.
The junior guards both said that they feel fully healthy and are ready to see what challenges arise for them this season, with the major challenge being replacing Ferrell.
Blackmon said it will definitely be a different approach, but he, Johnson and Newkirk will be able to handle that load and feels confident that even the young guys, such as freshmen guards Curtis Jones and Devonte Green, will be able to step up at any moment throughout the season.
When Johnson and Blackmon were both out toward the end of last season, 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Juwan Morgan experimented with being the secondary ball handler behind Ferrell.
Crean said that the biggest part about becoming a successful team is to have someone that can go downhill and drive into the lane, much like Ferrell did so often for the Hoosiers over the past four seasons.
He’s not sure who the primary ball handler will be for the Hoosiers quite yet. But whoever it turns out to be, there will be a group of guys ready to take that challenge, not just one individual.
“I think it will be different just because people are used to seeing Yogi out there,” Johnson said. “He’s been there for four years and been a big contributor. We all just have to raise our level to pick up the slack, there’s not necessarily going to be one guy that covers for what he did, rather a team full of guys.”