Last season, the man who loomed largest on the Indiana Hoosiers was often the most physically overshadowed on the court. Six-foot-10 NBA lottery pick Noah Vonleh drew the hungry eyes of pro scouts while departing 6-foot-7 senior Will Sheehey reveled in the cheers of his send-off season in Bloomington.
Yet, on most nights, all the towering trees and tantalizing prospects galloping about the hardwood court found themselves obscured by a 5-foot-11 sophomore named Yogi.
The numbers behind No. 11
Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell came to Bloomington, Indiana, in 2012, a homegrown hero. As a senior at Park Tudor (Indianapolis) Ferrell captured his second consecutive Class 2A Championship and was rewarded with a trip to the McDonald’s All-American game, where he led all players with eight assists and no turnovers.
Ferrell was a part of what many Hoosier hopefuls deemed “The Movement.” A five-man, top ten recruiting class consisting of Ferrell, Jeremy Hollowell, Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Peter Jurkin and Ron Patterson.
Despite the hype, The Movement never got moving in the right direction. Hollowell, Jurkin and Patterson have left Assembly Hall behind, while Perea’s immaturity and inconsistency have been a constant source of frustration.
This year, the team unequivocally belongs to the man they call Yogi.
Ferrell is coming off an All-Big Ten Second-Team season after averaging 17.3 points and 3.9 assists per game. He played 84.2 percent of all available minutes last year, and rarely ever stepped off the court in conference games (90.3 percent).
Offensively, Ferrell was a workhorse — Adrian Peterson in a Hoosier uniform.
Yogi accounted for 42.9 percent of Indiana’s three-point attempts, 50 percent of its made threes, 23.8 percent of its total points and 17.3 percent of its total turnovers. If Ferrell was on the floor, the ball was likely in his hands — he ranked tenth in the Big Ten with a usage percentage [An estimate of the percentage of team plays used while a player is on the floor.] of 25.8 percent.
Yogi is an undeniable offensive talent, a miniature bottle rocket chaotically zooming about the court. His offensive rating of 117.1 ranked fourth among Big Ten players who accumulated at least 1000 minutes last season — he trailed only Wisconsin’s Josh Gasser and Ben Brust and Michigan’s Nik Stauskas. They key difference between Yogi and those three is that No. 11 spent his time on a comparatively poor offensive team, one that didn’t even make the post-season.
Ferrell’s play is often a mix of awe-inspiring and head-scratching, an ill-fitting suit for a point guard who controls the rock over a quarter of the time he’s on the court. Of the ten Big Ten players with a usage percentage over 25.8 percent, Ferrell had the highest turnover percentage and carried a red-flag raising 1.4 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Last season, Indiana basketball games were won and lost on the streaky shooting stroke of Ferrell. The Hoosiers were at their best with Yogi the Creator, carrying an 8-4 record in games in which Ferrell dished five or more assists. When Ferrell failed to rise to the challenge of floor general, his Hoosiers suffered the consequences — IU was 4-6 when their point guard recorded less than three assists.
Still, the ability Ferrell carries on his sculpted shoulders is easily discernible. There are few who shoot with as much confidence as Yogi.
Six times in conference play he hit four or more threes, nearly causing a man-made earthquake to rattle the very foundations of Assembly Hall with a near perfect 27-point (7-for-8 3PT) performance in an upset over No. 10 Michigan. The problem is, that’s the only game of the six the Hoosiers emerged from victorious.
The Hoosiers were offensively challenged last season. The team never appeared to mesh properly, which is on both head coach Tom Crean and, to a slightly lesser extent, its point guard. Indiana will never lack for talent, but it appeared as if the rotation players were simply marching to their own beat. Yogi might be bouncing up the court to some Biggie while Vonleh kicked it in the post to some N.W.A. and Troy Williams flew around with Wu-Tang blaring.
They were together physically, and for several fleeting moments seemed to meet on a similar mental plane, but ultimately, the Hoosiers just never seemed to gel.
Follow the leader
With Sheehey gone and a dearth of upperclassmen, Ferrell is expected to step into a true leadership role this season.
The early indications of his leadership capabilities were less than ideal. In late April, Ferrell and sophomore Stanford Robinson were arrested and charged with Minor Consumption of an Alcoholic Beverage and Possession of a False Identification.
Yogi, just two weeks away from his 21st birthday, decided to try his luck at a local Bloomington bar with a fake I.D. Notwithstanding the fact that Ferrell was an easily recognizable icon on campus, this would have been a thick move regardless of where it was attempted.
For the elder statesman of the Hoosiers, this was an ill start to his tenure as team leader.
Despite that unfortunate April hiccup, things have been progressing well since the incident occurred.
Ferrell appears to finally have a a team to work with, not merely a collection of talented individuals. The Hoosiers’ recent trip North for a five-game series against same of Canada’s top college basketball teams shed some light on the kind of talent Yogi will be surrounded by this season.
Ferrell has an abundance of well-developed scoring threats around him for the first time since 2012. Troy Williams (18.4 ppg on the trip) appears to have taken a momentous leap in his second season in crimson and freshman James Blackmon’s (18.8 ppg to lead IU) sweet shooting stroke is nightmare fuel for Big Ten coaches.
Transfer Nick Zeisloft (11-of-20 3PT) is a deep threat off the bench who can be used in much the same way as a Kyle Korver or Klay Thompson if Crean is creative enough (and wise enough) to utilize him as such.
Sophomore Devin Davis also made a strong impression in Canada, filling in as the Hoosiers “big” with Hanner Mosquera-Perea stuck stateside with VISA issues. The recent acquisition of rugged New York freshman PF Emmitt Holt should only serve to bolster a deep Hoosier bench.
The speedy Ferrell should find himself flanked by two-to-three guards at a time this season, runnin’ and gunnin’ like a Jerry Tarkanian squad. His creative dribbling, blinding speed and (hopeful) maturity make him an ideal leader for such a squad.
Ferrell led Indiana in scoring twice in Canada — Williams also led twice while Blackmon led once — but exhibited a greater understanding of his importance as a creator. The onus is on Yogi to create and distribute and inspire the young Hoosiers around him. So far, so good.
Ride or Die with Yogi
It’s not going to be an easy season for Indiana — nothing in the Big Ten comes easy. Though they made out with a relatively “soft” conference schedule, every night is a battle in the B1G.
They’re small. They’re young. They lack a true post presence and the roster currently holds far more newcomers (9) than veterans (6). It’s a recipe for an underwhelming season, but the hope for triumph lays deep within the leader of the Hoosiers.
While the trees battle in the post and the bouncy, long-limbed prospects Jay Bilas loves so much ingest the scouting praise, Ferrell will be scampering around the court, looking like a kid who may have stumbled on during a TV timeout. As the whistle sounds and the ball is taken in, he’ll race up the court and toy with the ball as if it were a yo-yo.
Then he’ll drain a three. Or break an ankle. Or find Troy Williams floating among the clouds for an oop. Or dish to his new favorite weapon(s) for a three.
Or he’ll make an ill-advised pass and give the ball away. Or take an absurd 35-footer as Crean rips away at his perfectly parted hair.
Whatever it is that Ferrell does, the Hoosiers will live or die by it. And wherever it is the Hoosiers land, they’ll ride there on the 5-foot-11 shoulders of a point guard named Yogi.