TERRE HAUTE —
Options. Every team wants them. Not every team has them.
Take Indiana State’s men’s basketball team for example. It thought it had options in its frontcourt going into the 2012-13 season, but Mike Samuels’ broken foot suffered during the preseason trip to the Bahamas changed the equation for the Sycamores.
The injury situation forced ISU to mix-and-match with Justin Gant, Jake Kitchell and R.J. Mahurin, with players such as Gant and Mahurin often playing out of their natural positions.
Mahurin transferred and Samuels is still trying to recover from a second foot surgery during the offseason, but the Sycamores feel much better about their frontcourt options entering this season. Redshirt freshman T.J. Bell and junior college transfer Demetrius Moore are the reason.
Teej and Meech, their nicknames on the practice floor, give the Sycamores decent size — Bell is 6-foot-8 and Moore is 6-foot-7 — but moreover, they both give ISU a dose of athleticism it hasn’t had in some time.
“Since we’ve been here, we’ve known we needed to improve our depth and athleticism. This is as deep as we’ve been and as athletic as we’ve been. We need to consistently stay that way,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said.
They’re different players. Bell has an impressive vertical leap and works hard for easy layups, second-chance opportunities in the paint or a dunk. Moore uses his quickness to pivot around defenders, put the ball on the floor, and get to the basket. He’s also a solid passer.
Bell’s development has been a year in the making. When he arrived from Charleston, Ill. last season, he was extremely raw. It took the introverted Bell some time to get used to the level of conditioning Lansing demands, much less improve upon his skills.
“I told T.J. [on Tuesday] that he’s come farther than any kind in a year that I’ve been around. That being said, he had farther to go than anyone and he still has a long ways to go. He’s improved tremendously,” Lansing said.
Bell’s teammates noticed that he had to use his redshirt season to improve in many areas. But Bell began to come around in last year’s late season practices and his veteran teammates have seen a dramatic change in the course of a year.
ISU guard Jake Odum said Bell’s change from one year to the next is considerable.
“He wasn’t mature and his body hadn’t caught up with where he needed to be to play at the college level. This past year, he really developed, and you can say he became a man,” Odum said. “He’s more mature, he grew into his body and trimmed that baby fat. He’s going to be one of future guys to deal with in the Valley.”
Bell, who worked hard on his conditioning in the offseason, said he’s more comfortable and that comfort level helps a lot.
“Last year helped me a lot. In terms of lifting, getting the hang of things and getting the offense. This year, I know the spots I need to be. I hadn’t seen the plays last year and it comes to me better now. The pace is something I’ve become used to too,” Bell said.
Like most junior college players, Moore is raw entering his first season of Division I basketball, but even more so, considering he sat out a year after playing at Northwest Florida.
Also like most JUCO players, Moore has been relying on his raw talent first as he works on familiarizing himself with his teammates and Lansing’s offense and defense.
“ I feel good. I’ve come here and bonded and I’ve tried to get better. I ran the motion in high school. I didn’t do it at my JUCO, but I’m getting used to it,” Moore said.
The adjustment period is not to be dismissed. Moore’s frontcourt teammate — center Jake Kitchell — noted that ISU’s veterans are trying to get Moore caught up because they know the talent he has to give.
“We’ve been here for at least a year. We know what he wants done and how he wants it done. Demetrius just came from a whole different school. Learning what the coach wants is a hard thing to do, but he’s working at it,” Kitchell said.
Moore’s 6-7, 230-pound frame is one the Sycamores haven’t had in quite some time. Long, athletic and muscular, Lansing compared him physically to former Sycamore Djibril Kante. Players with that kind of build can be hard to come by for Missouri Valley Conference schools.
“It’s hard recruiting at this level to get guys like T.J. and Demetrius. We had to work hard to develop T.J. and we took Demetrius after he sat out a year. It’s so competitive to get interior guys,” Lansing noted.
But if it all works out, ISU will have those interior options teams covet. ISU’s four primary bigs — Bell, Moore, Kitchell and Justin Gant — all do things a little bit differently. If Bell and Moore realize their potential, they will mesh in well with Kitchell, who is a traditional post player, and Gant, who could revert back to the face-up game he’s more adept at than the 5-spot he often played a year ago.
“It’s going to be nice to interchange those guys and have Kitch at the 5-spot. It’ll be nice to have a few more wrinkles,” Odum said.