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Indiana basketball head coach Mike Woodson praises play of freshman point guard Gabe Cupps: ‘He leaves it out there on the floor’



Indiana basketball Gabe Cupps
Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times-USA TODAY NETWORK

While this season has not gone according to plan for Indiana basketball, there have been positive signs throughout the year and one of those has been the play of freshman point guard Gabe Cupps.

Coming into this season, Cupps was not expected to play heavy minutes — rather spot minutes behind sixth-year point guard Xavier Johnson and fourth-year guard Trey Galloway. But, just the opposite has happened.

Through 19 games, Cupps has started 10 times and played 22.4 minutes per game. While part of his early minutes have been a result of the injury to Xavier Johnson — missing seven games with a foot injury — Cupps has started the last three games with Johnson in the lineup.

Cupps didn’t arrive at Indiana as a scorer or big time shooter, so to expect otherwise, especially during his freshman year, would be naive. Instead, it’s his effort, pride, toughness, energy and IQ — all of the intangibles that are rarely seen in the box score — that he contributes.

Up to this point in the season, he’s delivered.

“Gabe is giving us everything that I thought he would give us,” Indiana basketball head coach Mike Woodson said during his weekly radio show on Monday. “He was coached by his dad, who did a hell of a job with that young man in high school. And, it’s been a nice carry-over into his freshman year because he’s not very big, he hasn’t shot the ball like I thought he would shoot, but again, I think that will come in time.

“But the fact that he competes, man, that’s a big part of playing this game. You gotta be a competitor and want to compete and he leaves it out there on the floor when he’s out there.”

Cupps is averaging just 2.9 points per game this season and is shooting 39.2 percent from the field and 40 percent (8-of-20) from three. He has 27 assists to 20 turnovers.

And, that last stat is the key. He’s averaging just 1.1 turnover per game this season and 1.9 in Big Ten play.

While much different players and style of play, Xavier Johnson is averaging 1.9 turnover per game and 2.2 in league games.

Cupps has 10 turnovers in 166 Big Ten minutes. Johnson, on the other hand, has 13 turnovers in 132 minutes. Cupps also has three less turnovers in 147 more minutes on the season.“

He’s got one of the best work ethics I’ve ever seen,” Calbert Cheaney said earlier this season. “He’s just all about trying to be the best he can be. He’s not the biggest kid, he’s not the fastest kid, but he makes up for it with a huge heart and determination. And, that’s rare.”

It’s also notable, the efficiency that Cupps plays with when he’s alongside the rest of the starting lineup. According to, the lineup of Cupps, Trey Galloway, Mackenzie Mgbako, Malik Reneau and Kel’el Ware ranks third in the entire country in efficiency margin.

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Part of that development is a result of the summer and fall, practicing against Johnson every single day. The strength, quickness and age difference gave Cupps the confidence he needed to step up in his absence and contribute.

“I think I’ve done a good job in practice of just coming consistently and pressuring the ball all the time,” Cupps said earlier this season. “When I get out here, guys usually aren’t as fast or strong as X that I’m guarding every day in practice. I feel confident that if I can get up and pressure X every day, then I can come out here and pressure guys up the floor the whole time.”

The next step in his progression? Becoming more of a threat offensively.

“There’s a lot of room for growth, and the growth is he’s got to be able to make shots, and he’s going to be able have to have to run pick-and-rolls where he can find the spots where the ball needs to go,” Woodson said on Thursday. “Defensively, he’s been fine in that regard. He picks things up, you know, fairly quickly. But you know, those are the things coming down — as a sophomore, junior, senior, those are areas where he’s got to grow more. I think eventually he will. He’ll get there.”

So, while the impact may not show up in the box score every game, or even possession to possession — the 426 minutes and counting, including double-digit starts will only continue to benefit both Cupps and Indiana basketball, now and in the future.

Because, at the end of the day he will continue to impact the game in positive ways.

“He’s done a lot of good things on the floor for us in terms of winning, winning basketball plays,” Woodson added. “That’s what I like to call it because he does a lot of good things to help you win games.”

“Some get it and some don’t get it. And he got it.”

SEE ALSO: Inside The Numbers — A look at Indiana basketball. How it got here and what’s next?

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Alec Lasley is the owner of Hoosier Illustrated, a comprehensive site covering news, updates and recruiting for Indiana University athletics. Alec has covered Indiana for six years and is a credentialed media member. He has previously worked for both Rivals and 247Sports.