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Indiana basketball leaning on ‘untapped potential’ next year. But, there’s an excitement that comes with.



Indiana basketball has some of the most naturally-talented players it's had in some time. Now, it's about tapping into that potential. (David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)

The Indiana basketball program entered this offseason much different than it had in previous years. It was truly the end of an era, with question marks on how it would look next year.

All-American and the backbone of IU’s success over the past two seasons, Trayce Jackson-Davis, was no longer sporting the Indiana jersey. Freshman of the Year in the conference, Jalen Hood-Schifino, was off to the NBA.

Two other starters in Race Thompson and Miller Kopp, both significant parts of the success, had graduated. And, three players had transferred out.

Indiana was left with a total rebuild of its roster. The first aspect was what style of play Mike Woodson would want next year.

“Trayce Jackson-Davis is the first center that I’ve ever coached in my career where I had to utilize my center as a post-up player,” Woodson said earlier this season. ” … it’s the first time in my coaching career that I’ve had to coach a young man starting out on the block and expanding his game. I don’t know where we’re going to be next season in terms of how our style of play will be. But we’ve got to get better. I do know that.”

Front court needs and shooting were the two focal points of the last two months.

Mike Woodson went out and made some notable splashes early. He landed talented forward Payton Sparks for depth and former projected lottery pick in 7-foot Kel’el Ware.

Both players have different skillsets but are going to be key pieces to the front court puzzle next season.

Then, another front court member made his pledge to the IU program. Anthony Walker joined Ware and Sparks.

On Friday, Indiana basketball secured its highest-rated commit in the Woodson era with top-10 2023 prospect Mackenzie Mgbako. Not only does Mgbako give Indiana the highly-skilled and versatile wing it needed, it also adds to the extremely athletic and long front court.

The college game is going away from ‘traditional’ big men and is now revolving around 6-foot-7, 6-foot-8 scoring wings, veteran guards and athletic and stretch forwards. That’s not what Indiana has been built on. Now, it needs to be.

There may not be two more naturally-gifted players in the college game right now from a sure athletic and physical perspective than Ware and Mgbako.

‘(He’s) arguably the most naturally talented player in the transfer portal’, said 247Sports national recruiting director Eric Bossi said of Ware.

“While Mgbako still has to be a bit more consistent as a jump shooter, the tools are there to be a reliable shooter. He can rebound, he runs the floor well and he’s got a great frame to build on this summer in the weight room. Essentially, he’s the type of player that Indiana was missing from their roster,” Bossi added of Mgbako.

Size, length, athleticism, talent. Those are four words that haven’t always been boxes Indiana can check off with a roster. This upcoming year, it’ll have that.

“They needed this type of player to solidify what this roster could be,” HoosierIllustrated owner Alec Lasley said last night of Mgbako. “Indiana had done a pretty good job earlier up to this point in the offseason getting some of those secondary pieces or third pieces they really needed but they hadn’t really splashed on someone they had to have as a scorer and shooter.

“The talent level just wasn’t there coming off of last year … Now you look at what they’ve been able to put together, you have two five-stars with Mgbako and Kel’el Ware. You have the bench production now with Payton Sparks and Anthony Walker. You get a massive win getting Xavier Johnson back. Everything they have been able to do over the last 30-45 days has now set themselves up for — now expectations going into next year, of something where you don’t drop off as much as it could’ve been going into next year … It was massive in what you’re trying to build in what is a bridge year and a gap year from the Trayce Jackson-Davis era to the 2024 and 2025 classes.”

A projected starting front line of Mgbako, Ware and retuning former top-30 recruit Malik Reneau gives Indiana a lot of untapped potential. It’s one of the scariest phrases in sports — but also one of the best.

The potential that all three players have immediately elevates Indiana’s ceiling for next year. Relying on a freshman and two sophomores is not always ideal, but the risk-reward is way too high in the latter to not have expectations.

So after a successful first two months of the offseason, it’s time for a reset. There is still one available scholarship for the Indiana basketball program next season.

The Hoosiers have one final need in shooting.

But, with the roster starting to come together, it’s clear that this is going to be one of the more top-heavy talented teams Indiana has had in recent memory.

You start looking around the Big Ten and there aren’t many teams with two to three future potential first round draft picks in addition to an experienced all-league point guard.

Untapped potential will be the theme for Indiana next year. But, that’s an exciting theme to lean on.

SEE ALSO: Hunter Dickinson on Indiana basketball: ‘Playing in Assembly Hall is crazy. I love that atmosphere.’

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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.