TERRE HAUTE —
Indiana State’s men’s basketball team has 14 players on its roster. Of those, only five have never played a game for the Sycamores.
One is Demetrius Moore, who has junior college experience at Northwest Florida State, and who will be a contributor this season.
There’s also Mike Samuels, who also had a juco background and who spent a year with the Sycamores after sitting out the 2012-13 season with a broken foot. Freshman T.J. Bell is another, but he also has a season’s worth of practice under his belt at ISU, as he sat out last season as a redshirt.
That leaves true freshmen Alex Etherington and Brenton Scott as the only two true neophytes to the world of college basketball on the ISU roster.
Etherington, a 6-foot-5 swingman from Cicero, and Scott, a 6-1 point guard from Fort Wayne, have a somewhat enviable situation of being able to ease their way into action as they join a veteran team.
Did I say enviable? That situation turns on its head when Etherington and Scott have to get used to pace of ISU’s practices and the standard ISU’s veterans are trying to set this season as they have a realistic chance to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s been a learning experience,” Etherington said. “It’s obviously a lot harder than high school. The pace is a lot different and I’m getting used to that. Coach [Greg Lansing] wants to run a lot, so we’ve been going up and down a lot. It’s getting me in shape.”
For Scott, the learning curve includes the trappings of his position at the point. Not only does he have to get used to everything as anyone else does, but he has to learn the system inside and out to make it as a floor leader.
“The speed is a little different. Everybody can play now. The reads are a lot different, you have to make quicker decisions, but everything for me right now is fine,” Scott said. “I feel like I’m fitting in. I’m learning the system and I’m learning everything coach Lansing wants me to learn. I’m trying to be really professional about everything. I think I’m making a good adjustment.”
Lansing noted that both players have had their eyes opened to the advances they need to make as players to succeed at the Division I level.
“Both of these guys have worked hard on the court, off the court and in the weight room, but even though they were here this summer, it was overwhelming a little bit. You could see it in their eyes at times as to how hard this group works and how hard you have to compete,” said Lansing, who noted that both players have been coachable and haven’t been afraid to mix it up with veteran teammates.
The upside of Etherington and Scott is significant. Etherington averaged 18 points per game at Hamilton Heights High School and can give the Sycamores athleticism and a shooting threat. Scott teamed with his Purdue-bound twin brother, Bryson, to make Fort Wayne Northrop a northeast Indiana power. Scott was a double-figure scorer throughout his Northrop career and was particularly adept at forcing steals on the defensive side.
Each player cited a veteran teammate as a mentor. Etherington said he’s worked well with sophomore swingman Khristian Smith. The obvious mentor for Scott is senior point guard Jake Odum.
“They want me to be a leader, but you have to be a follower first,” Scott said. “Right now, I’m following in Jake’s footsteps to see how he does it. I’m not trying to put any pressure on myself, I’m just trying to learn. He’s taught me a lot. He’s pushed me, and I’m pushing myself to be a better point guard.”
Since 2007, ISU has gone the redshirt route with most of its true freshmen. With two weeks to go before the season starts, it’s a decision that still hasn’t been seriously discussed or finalized. Scott said that he wouldn’t redshirt this season. Etherington was more open to it.
“It’s definitely a possibility. We haven’t talked about it much. We’re going to see how practice goes and see where I am when the season starts,” Etherington said.
The reality is that playing time is going to be difficult for either freshman to earn given the veterans in front of them. It’s something that Lansing takes into account when he asks true freshmen whether they want to redshirt.
“We have a lot of guys back and guys who didn’t play as much last year fighting for playing minutes. These guys have been trying to concentrate and get better every day learning our system,” Lansing said. “You have to make decisions as to whether anyone wants to redshirt or not. We always leave that up to the kids and their families. No matter what, they’re good players, and they’ll be good for our future.”