Indiana Hoosiers' sophomore point guard Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell will have the most responsibility he's ever had on his plate as a college basketball player this coming season.
And starting as a freshman on the preseason No. 1 team in the country was an awfully tall order a year ago.
This is a transition year for Tom Crean's Hoosiers. Four of five starters from last season are gone. Players who accounted for 59 points per game from last year's team have graduated, transferred or declared for the NBA.
Crean's past two recruiting classes have been strong, but talent by itself won't contend for a Big Ten championship, yet alone promise to raise the program's oh-so-elusive sixth banner.
In what has been the nation's toughest conference, in what has been—if last season was any indication—a college basketball landscape entrenched with parity, the Hoosiers must mold their raw talent into a fully-functioning, efficiently operating unit to achieve their goals.
As the head coach, Tom Crean must wear that responsibility. But, as for players on the floor, Indiana will be starving for a leader. Leadership options A, B, C and D from the team that captured the Big Ten regular-season title are no longer available for Crean and the Hoosiers.
Someone must step in and fill that role, or a transition year could quickly become a dreaded rebuilding year.
Regardless of how balanced a team may be, every good team, every great team, every championship team has a leader, a go-to guy. Scanning IU's roster, there isn't a more equipped applicant than point guard Yogi Ferrell to become the Hoosiers captain.
Senior forward Will Sheehey is certainly a capable candidate to become Indiana's driving force, and I suspect he'd be a nice fallback option if Ferrell doesn't demand the reins. But as the point guard, the floor general, the player with the most starting experience in an Indiana uniform—and arguably the best player on this year's squad—Ferrell must show Crean and the rest of the program that he is ready to become the Hoosiers' heartbeat.
The challenge seems to appeal to the young guard, and he apparently was already taking steps to assume a leadership role as a freshman.
"I love taking the leadership role and my teammates have let me take it," Ferrell told The Indianapolis Star last season. "I like to run the show on the court, getting everybody to the right spots, getting them to where they need to be."
But Coach Crean, while appreciative of Ferrell's efforts, indicated that leadership is something he'll have to continue to improve upon. "The biggest step now is he's got to become more of a vocal leader," Crean said. "That's the next step."
That next step will be crucial for both Ferrell and the Hoosiers' success. With six freshman coming into the program—all of whom could conceivably have some role on this year's team—a voice, other than that of Crean and his coaching staff, will need to help guide the younger players in much the same way Jordan Hulls, Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller and Christian Watford guided Ferrell as a freshman.
The torch has been passed, and it'll be up to Ferrell to run with it and help smooth the exchange of the program's legacy to tomorrow's leaders.
Running with the torch will consist of more than just leading with rah-rah speeches, tutoring, encouraging and being demanding, though. Ferrell will need to lead by example, set a precedent with his play.
Ferrell averaged 7.6 points and 4.1 assists per contest during a freshman season that was highlighted by a spot on the Big Ten's All-Freshman Team. But he needs to be much better than that as a sophomore.
Shooting only 40 percent from the field and just 30 percent from behind the arc are figures Ferrell certainly must improve on this season. Attacking the basket, finishing at the rim and drawing fouls will be key as well.
But to be a true leader, Ferrell must possess the ability to take over games for the Hoosiers when his teammates need his production the most and to become a closer who makes clutch plays when the game is on the line.
The incoming freshman class is highly skilled, but they'll still face a learning curve. Some of the newcomers will hit the same freshman wall Ferrell hit last season, and some may underachieve like highly touted recruits Jeremy Hollowell and Hanner Perea underachieved in 2013.
This Hoosiers team is bound to struggle at some point this season, and it'll be up to a leader to put it on his back and dominate a game when that time comes.
Ferrell may not be the kind of prolific scorer most usually associate with the above description. But he doesn't have to be that player. He's already a well-rounded point guard who can make plays on both ends and can consistently set up his teammates with easy buckets by pushing the tempo in transition and penetrating in the half court.
Ferrell doesn't have to become something he's not to lead this Indiana team. Living up to his high potential and becoming more vocal is all that's required.
Indiana basketball wants to prove this season that the program has resurfaced as a mainstay among the nation's basketball elite. Doing so with so much roster turnover and so little experience would be an affirmation.
Perhaps no other Hoosier, especially no other returning Hoosier, will have a bigger say in achieving that aim than Ferrell.
Whether or not he's ready to lead could make or break the Hoosiers' season.
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