A hardened senior and a precocious freshman are ready to lead the Hoosiers deep into March
Indiana's final game in the Big Ten tournament, against Illinois, was barely a minute old when Hoosiers coach Kelvin Sampson called timeout and berated junior forward D.J. White for having just allowed Shaun Pruitt to make a layup. "He was in my face, yelling and spitting," White recalls. "It made me so mad, I thought, Hey, I'm going to prove to him what I can do."
White responded by snaring a season-high 13 rebounds (and scoring 14 points) in the 58-54 loss. Now White needs to dem-onstrate he can light himself up. When White was thinking of entering the NBA draft last spring, Sampson told him not to come back for his senior year unless he was determined to be a leader as well as a great player. "This time last year I didn't like D.J.'s body language, I didn't like his approach to practice and I didn't like how he reacted when I got on him," Sampson says. "From Day One this year, he's been a totally different person. He has a swagger he didn't have before."
White concedes he's not naturally assertive -- "I'm just a nice guy," he says -- but if he can keep up his nasty attitude, the Hoosiers could make a run to the Final Four. In addition to three starters from last year's 21-11 squad, a six-man recruiting class has given Bloomington great expectations. The gemstone is Eric Gordon, but another freshman guard, Jordan Crawford, has been a pleasant surprise during practices. His maturation at the point would allow Sampson to play Gordon off the ball, where he is more comfortable.
Gordon, of course, created a stir when he decommitted from Illinois in October 2006 and signed to play for IU. He was worth the fuss: During Indiana's trip to the Bahamas in September, Gordon averaged 27.0 points on 57.6% shooting. "Eric has that extra gear," Sampson says. "He can get to that next shelf in the closet."
Gordon is naturally reticent. "Eric probably wouldn't say anything if coach didn't make him," sophomore guard Armon Bassett says. That leaves the leading to the now vocal White. "The [young] guys are going to look up to me," he says. "I need to take this team over." -- Seth Davis
Issue date: November 19, 2007