News From Terre Haute, Indiana

June 24, 2012

Summer Blue Crew

Large group of ISU men’s basketball newcomers spending summer learning to work

Craig Pearson
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Indiana State men’s basketball coach Greg Lansing is having the most enjoyable summer of his college coaching career. A new NCAA rule now allows coaches more instructional time with their athletes.

During an eight-week span, which coaches can begin at their own declaration, the staffs at Division I schools can work with players two hours per week on the basketball court.  

The players get an additional six hours each week to work with strength and conditioning coach Dave McManus. Players also volunteer on their own time to play in an open-gym setting.

“I’m in my element,” Lansing said. “This is what our staff likes to do more than anything is teach and be with our guys. With the newcomers, it’s a chance to establish how hard you work.”

Indiana State has seven players who have no Division I regular-season experience in addition to a transfer from Gonzaga looking to join veteran point guard Jake Odum.

Only four of those eight are brand new to the program: Sullivan native Rhett Smith, 6-foot-8 T.J. Bell of Charleston, Ill., 6-11, 260-pound junior college transfer Mike Samuels, 6-4 juco transfer Dawon Cummings are new to campus and 6-6 Khristian Smith is working out with the team for the first time after being ineligible last year.  

“For us it’s perfect,” Lansing said of the new rule. “It couldn’t have come at a better time. Having nine guys that are new fighting for minutes … now it’s just like spring and fall for us, they’re lifting [weights] four days a week. We’re more motivated as a staff than ever.”

Additionally, ISU will make an August trip to the Bahamas. The Sycamores will get 10 days of practice and four games to begin to gel.

Getting the new players acclimated to what the coaching staff wants is particularly important, Lansing said.

Brand new

Samuels, for example, could be an impact big man for ISU, and working against players who are stronger than him like former ISU big man Myles Walker and returnee Jake Kitchell is helping prepare him for the fall.

“I don’t think I’ve ever worked like this, in the weight room and playing with this group of guys,” said Samuels, who got used to being the biggest man on the court during his two years at Wabash Valley Junior College. “Guys are going to be my size in Division I. I wasn’t as strong as I thought I was. My expressiveness has to improve, and I’m trying to improve my lateral quickness.”

Smith, whom many Wabash Valley fans watched develop his game in high school, is ahead of the game for most freshmen in the weight room.  

“We obviously like Rhett,” Lansing said. “He’s a guy with a good lifting background, he’s a strong kid. Now what he’s got to do is get his body ready for the college level. He was the biggest, strongest kid on the floor every night that he played. He’s got to do some things to get his athleticism back, his agility back. And he’s working on his game, going out there and shooting 500 shots in a day.”

T.J. Bell has vast potential for the Sycamores, said Lansing, who hopes to instill the work ethic in the athletic young player. “They’ve never had to go through what they’re going through right now. T.J. has some tremendous athletic ability and has got some things you can’t teach at all.”  

Cummings is completing a class at Coffeyville Community College, where he averaged 13.8 points and shot 35 percent from beyond the 3-point arc last winter. He’ll join the team the first of July.

“I got to play with Dawon in open gym here end of spring. He’s a thinner guard like me, he can really stroke it,” Odum said.  

Lansing expects big things from Cummings.

“Losing Steve [McWhorter], who was probably going to be a projected starter for us next year, we had to have a good player. [Cummings] is quick, athletic and more of a shooter than Steve was; maybe not quite the defensive presence, but hopefully he can get into that,” Lansing said.

Hungry to compete

The other five players who will make their debut in a Sycamore uniform this fall sat out last season for various reasons.

It’s an energetic group of guys that’s ready to prove they belong.

“We’ve got an exciting group of guys,” Odum said. “We’ve got guys that can make plays, pass the ball, shoot the ball, dunk the ball, defend — especially Devonte Brown, he can defend all game.”

Brown displayed his skills with 13 points in an exhibition win for the Sycamores, but a stockpile of veteran guards meant it was better for the native of Killeen, Texas, to redshirt last season.

He’s ready to help the team in any way.

If I’ve got to give water to the other guys, that’s what I want to do. Anything for the team to win. Me and Odum can play side-by-side, I can come in and give him a break. Whatever the team needs me to do,” Brown said.

Lansing sees an impact player.

“He’s just a really quick defensive-minded lead guard that’s strong and can really help us on the defense end, where we struggled last year,” Lansing said.

Khristian Smith is Lansing’s first true Indianapolis recruit. Smith originally committed to Cincinnati out of Pike High School then spent a year at Maine Central Institute. Smith hasn’t played organized basketball since then, and he’s ready.

“Once you get something taken away from you, you kind of appreciate it a little more. I got here with a focused mind, I appreciate the game a lot more. I love the game a lot more,” Smith said.

The 6-6 swing man said he brings energy and positive emotion to the team.

“I love to win, I hate loosing even in open gym,” he added. “I’ve always been a leader, I’ve always been a talker. I want to feed off JO [Odum] a lot. We can run, we’re more athletic. The sky’s the limit, really.”

Burnett, a 24-point-per-game scorer in high school out of Tuscon, Ariz., is another big guard. He said he hopes to replace some of the athleticism lost with the graduation of Dwayne Lathan.

Lansing sees an explosive athlete.

“Brandon has absolutely transformed his body, his body fat has gone way down, he’s got his athleticism back,” Lansing said. “He’s a good shooter. The coaches have all kind of been raving about him.”

Last but certainly not least, is Manny Arop, a 6-5 Gonzaga transfer who got to know some of coach Lansing’s expectations while practicing with the team last year.

Arop, a seemingly well-rounded offensive player, likes the potential of the Sycamores on the other end.

“I think we’re going to be a great defensive team,” Arop said. “That starts with coach Lansing, same with coach Lou [Goudino], they preach defense a lot. They remind us a lot about the details. When I see that — and we might not be where we want to be now, but if we keep at it, we’re going to be a good defensive team.”

“Manny’s a scorer, a physical perimeter player,” Lansing said. “You add those four guys, they make you a little more athletic, a little bigger on the perimeter, a little stronger. Gives you a little different look than we’ve had in the past.”