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

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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.’

Make sure to follow Hoosier Illustrated on Twitter @Indiana_FRN and YouTube to stay up to date on all of the news, updates and coverage of Indiana University athletics. 

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Mike Woodson ‘always looking to better’ Indiana basketball with final available scholarship

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The Indiana basketball program has one available scholarship for next season and Mike Woodson is 'always looking to better' the roster. (Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times-USA TODAY NETWORK)

As Mike Woodson and the Indiana basketball program approach the first segment of summer workouts, its roster is still not full.

Currently, the Hoosiers have one open scholarship for the upcoming season.

On Wednesday, Woodson made it clear — in order to compete at the top of the Big Ten and around the country, he’s ‘always looking to better’ Indiana basketball.

“We’re always looking,” Woodson said of his final scholarship spot. “Based on a lot of the players tonight that might pull out (of the NBA draft), there might be a player that falls through the cracks. I’m watching it closely and I’m always looking to better our team and if we can pick up someone, based on who falls through the cracks, then we will.”

The NBA Draft withdrawal deadline was May 31 at 11:59 pm and while there were some big names announcing their intentions on returning to college, Woodson isn’t going to go for just anybody.

With six new players coming in next season as of now, including three transfers, chemistry, role and fit are incredibly important.

“I mean I got really seven new players and I gotta figure it out in terms of how we gonna play, who can do what,” Woodson said. “So I’m kinda anxious to see this next week. A lot of the guys are coming back this weekend and getting them in the gym and see who can do what.”

The role that Indiana needs to fill is on the perimeter. The Hoosiers are lacking the consistent knockdown shooting it needs in order to raise their ceiling this year. As of now, a lot is being put on the untapped potential of the roster … mainly the young pieces.

Indiana has five-star newcomers in Mackenzie Mgbako and Kel’el Ware. It also has core pieces returning in Xavier Johnson, Trey Galloway and Malik Reneau.

But, Reneau, Mgbako and Ware have combined to start just seven games at the college level.

The talent level is there, as is the versatility — something Indiana hasn’t had from top to bottom on its roster since Woodson took the program over.

When it came down to assembling the roster that is currently constructed, while the Indiana basketball staff had full control of the players incoming, there will be a taste of what Xavier Johnson wanted as well.

“Yeah, he asked me who I was interested in and I told him and we got a couple of the guys that I actually liked,” Johnson said. “We built a solid, solid team coming in.

“I would say from my watch, I think we have a pretty — a pretty unique, unique team. We’ll be more athletic than last year.”

So, as Woodson and the rest of the Indiana basketball staff look at its final scholarship spot, it’s one that is 100 percent open for use, but not one that will just be tossed around unless the specific skillset arises.

SEE ALSO: ‘It’s going to be my job to bridge the gap’: Mike Woodson’s vision for Indiana basketball is coming to life

Make sure to follow Hoosier Illustrated on Twitter @Indiana_FRN and YouTube to stay up to date on all of the news, updates and coverage of Indiana University athletics. 

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Indiana basketball senior guard Xavier Johnson gives update on his health: ‘I’m 100 (percent)’

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Dec 10, 2022; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Indiana Hoosiers guard Xavier Johnson (0) reacts after a three point score against the Arizona Wildcats during the second half at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

Besides the additions of Oregon transfer center Kel’el Ware and the commitment of 2023 five-star forward Mackenzie Mgbako, the biggest offseason win for Indiana basketball was the return of senior guard Xavier Johnson.

Last season, Johnson played and started in just 11 games before he suffered a broken foot on Dec. 17 after playing only nine minutes against Kanas. He would go on to miss the reminder of the season.

Towards the end of last season however, there were rumblings that Johnson and Indiana would seek a medical hardship waiver, which they opted to do, with the senior guard running out of chances to realistically get back into the rotation and contribute.

Going into the offseason, the potential return of Xavier Johnson quickly became one of the bigger storylines for the Indiana basketball program and on April 26th, it was announced that Johnson’s medical hardship waiver was approved by the NCAA. 

Mike Woodson and Indiana basketball had their starting point guard back.

“It’s been a long process, honestly,” said Xavier Johnson when speaking to the media on Wednesday night. “I had to see it all through, talked to my coach (Woodson) and my family. The best option was to come back to school just for the benefit of my health. I would say I thought I was gonna come back in February, late February, but I think it was best for the team just to keep competing (last year) without me and I’ll just be there to support.”

During the process of the medical hardship waiver application, there is not much that a college athlete can do but just wait and see what the NCAA decides based on the facts.

Waiting is exactly what Xavier Johnson did.

“I really just had to wait, honestly, I mean there’s nothing right to the process, but waiting,” Johnson added.

As a senior and the elite competitor that Xavier Johnson is, it certainly was hard for him to have to sit on the sidelines and watch his teammates at Indiana play without him for the second half of last season. When Johnson went down, the keys were given to freshman guard Jalen Hood-Schifino as the primary ball handler for the Hoosiers, who used that opportunity to play his way into a potential lottery pick in the NBA Draft.

Even though there was a chance that Xavier Johnson could have returned late last year, the best thing for Johnson in the long term was to sit out and have a better chance at coming back this season and playing a full senior campaign.

When Johnson got the word that his wavier was approved by the NCAA, you can say the wait was well worth it.

“It was a long process of getting my waiver, but once I got it, that weight was off my shoulders.” said Johnson.

“Coach (Woodson) called me and asked me if I wanted to transfer. I was like ‘what you mean do I want to transfer? Did I not get my waiver?’ He was like ‘yeah you got your waiver. Do you want to come back and play for me?’ I was like ‘yeah!’ (laughter).”

Besides Johnson, there might not be a happier and more excited person on this earth to know that his starting point guard, his senior leader, is returning to help captain the 2023-24 Indiana Hoosiers than Mike Woodson.

The coach-player relationship that Mike Woodson and Xavier Johnson have built these past few seasons is truly special. Woodson has a special connection with his point guards and really understands the value of having a great one like Johnson.

And as far as Xavier Johnson’s health heading into the summer portion of the Indiana offseason?

“I’m 100 (percent),” Johnson simply and confidently said.

SEE ALSO: ‘I think we are getting into more of what coach Woodson wants’: Former IU basketball player Christian Watford discusses Hoosiers offseason

Make sure to follow Hoosier Illustrated on Twitter @Indiana_FRN and YouTube to stay up to date on all of the news, updates and coverage of Indiana University athletics. 

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Indiana basketball: Kel’el Ware among thirty-five athletes to participate in USA U19 Men’s National Team Training Camp

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Indiana’s Kel’el Ware Among Thirty-Five Athletes to Participate in USA U19 Men’s National Team Training Camp - 5/31/2023 12:00:00 PM - Photo Credit: Indiana Men's Basketball

As announced per an Indiana basketball release, sophomore center Kel’el Ware was among thirty-five athletes selected to participate in USA U19 Men’s National Team Training Camp.

In April, Ware announced he was transferring to Indiana after spending one season at Oregon. Ware averaged 6.6 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game in one season at Oregon.

Below is the full release.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado – USA Basketball today announced the 35 athletes expected to participate in the 2023 USA U19 Men’s National Team Training Camp at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Camp begins June 11 with the 12-member team to be announced before departing for the 2023 FIBA U19 Men’s World Cup Championship, scheduled for June 24-July 2 in Debrecen, Hungary.

Included in that list is IU sophomore center Kel’el Ware who is joining the Hoosiers after spending his freshman season at Oregon.  He represented USA Basketball winning a gold medal at the 2022 FIBA U18 Americas Championship in Tijuana, Mexico.  In six games, he averaged 15.7 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting 67.2% from the field in 19.4 minutes per game.  He also had 11 blocked shots.

He played for the 2022 USA Nike Hoop Summit Team that defeated the World Select Team 102-80 in the 23rd Nike Hoop Summit and came off the bench to score 11 points on four-of-five shooting from the field and also grabbed five rebounds.

At Oregon, the North Little Rock, Arkansas native played 35 games and started four as a freshman for the Ducks.  He averaged 6.6 points and 4.1 rebounds in 15.8 minutes of action per game and led the team in blocked shots with 45.  His best game of the year was an 18-point, nine-board effort against eventual national champion, UConn.  He also had nine rebounds against Michigan State.

Athletes attending training camp were selected by the USA Basketball Men’s Junior National Team Committee.  Athletes eligible for this team must be U.S. citizens, born on or after January 1, 2004.  Nearly half of the athletes have prior USA Basketball experience. Ten invitees have won a gold medal as a member of a USA Basketball junior national team.

Supporting as court coaches during trials will be Jonas Hayes (Georgia State University), Kevin Kruger (UNLV), TJ Otzelberger (Iowa State University) and Micah Shrewsberry (Notre Dame).

The United States will square off with Lebanon, Madagascar and Slovenia in pool play.

The U.S. will face off against Lebanon and Madagascar for the first time at a 2023 FIBA Men’s U19 World Cup. The U.S. own a 2-0 record against Slovenia at the U19 World Cup.

The United States has won the competition eight times, including three of the last four competitions—in 2015, 2019 and 2021.

SEE ALSO: Kel’el Ware ready to make big impact for Indiana basketball: ‘(I’m ready) to prove everybody wrong’

Make sure to follow Hoosier Illustrated on Twitter @Indiana_FRN and YouTube to stay up to date on all of the news, updates and coverage of Indiana University athletics. 

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