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Monday / August 8.
  • Fabulous Freshmen? Don’t Forget About Indiana’s Vonleh

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    NEW YORK — During the first half of Indiana’s 102-84 blowout of Washington Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, one Hoosiers fan seated behind the Indiana basket yelled out a message for freshman forward Noah Vonleh.

    “Hey, Noah, stay one more year,” the fan implored. “Noah, one more year.”

    The way the 6-foot-10, 240-pound Vonleh has shot out of the gate in his freshman season, you can understand why the Hoosier faithful are already concerned that he might be one-and-done.

    Vonleh finished with 18 points and 9 rebounds in just 24 minutes in the rout of Washington in the 2K Sports Classic, one rebound shy of what would have been his fifth straight double-double for the Hoosiers (5-0).

    “Coach [Tom Crean] kept putting me in and out [of the game] and I was trying to go get it,” the soft-spoken Vonleh said of that elusive 10th rebound. “But I didn’t get it. I’ll go get it the next game.”

    The next game will come against No. 18 UConn (5-0) in Friday night’s championship game after the Huskies pulled out a 72-70 victory over Boston College.

    And you can bet the NBA scouts will be back to see Vonleh in that one.

    Though fellow super-frosh Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon have gotten most of the shine early in this season, Vonleh is just a notch below that group and could well end up in the 2014 NBA Draft lottery if he keeps playing like this.

    “He is a guy that will play both the 4/5 at the next level,” one former NBA GM in attendance told SNY.tv. “He’s mobile, has good hands and feet, rebounds his position. He’s not afraid and has great composure for a freshman. He looks like another Al Horford type.”

    In part because he is just 18 years old, Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com does not currently have Vonleh in his Mock Draft for 2014. Instead, he ranks him at No. 9 in 2015.

    Yet Givony said he is re-thinking that and could move Vonleh into the 2014 group.

    “His upside is definitely high,” Givony told SNY.tv. “I wasn’t sure how far along he was based on what I saw last year but it seems like he would go really high if he decides to enter [in 2014].”

    Vonleh is not the other-worldly scorer that Wiggins, Parker, Randle and Gordon are. He entered the game averaging 14.8 points and 12.5 rebounds, but he is a true rebounding machine, something he takes pride in.

    “It’s always been a strength of mine,” Vonleh said. “Just getting every rebound, on the offensive and the defensive end. Sometimes, I didn’t show it tonight, but I can start the break when I get the defensive rebound and create offense for our team.”

    Crean credited Vonleh’s “huge hands” with giving him an advantage on the boards.

    “Again, he’s still learning how to use his hands, keep his hands free,” Crean said. “The next step for him is to rebound balls out of his area and I think when he does that, the sky’s the limit. When we watch film with him, we don’t focus on the ones he’s getting, we focus on the ones he could’ve gotten.

    “He wanted another rebound tonight. Somewhere he saw that he needed another rebound.”

    Offensively, Vonleh scored mostly on layups, dunks and putbacks but he can create off the dribble, and that part of his game should develop. He also demands the double-team in the paint, which frees up teammates for open looks.

    “He’s a very confident young man because he knows he has to get a lot better,” Crean said. “He should be a senior in high school back at New Hampton (N.H.)…He has tremendous upside, but he also has a ¬†huge, huge level of improvement to get to in so many different areas.

    “He’s got a great desire to win, to compete, but most importantly a great desire to get better. He’s one of the hardest-working young men I’ve ever been around and it’s hard to remember sometimes he’s only 18.”

    It’s hard to miss Wiggins, Parker, Randle and Gordon getting all sorts of shine every morning on SportsCenter, and Vonleh says he tries not to pay attention but has noticed what they’ve been doing.

    “I [saw] when they were out in Chicago, they all looked pretty good,” he said.

    Said Washington coach Lorenzo Romar: “I think when it’s all said and done, boy he has a chance to be right up there with some of those guys. He’s really talented. You just look at his rebounds-per-minute, that tells you the whole story with him. And you can just see, he’s just a pup. He’s going to keep getting better and better.”

    While Wiggins, Parker, Randle and Gordon all figure to go in the top five of the 2014 Draft, it remains unclear if Vonleh will spend another year on campus or come out after his freshman season.

    It will depend on how this year play out.

    “He’s already one of the most productive freshman in the country,” ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla told SNY.tv. “He didn’t have quite the hype that the ‘Big Four’ did, and while they’ve lived up to their reputations, he’s certainly lived up and maybe even surpassed some of the expectations for him.

    “He looks like an NBA player down the road, whenever that is, next year, two years. And he’s got a great attitude and a high motor. It’s going to serve him well.”

    FREE THROWS

    Whoever wins the Indiana-UConn game will have twice as many wins at the Garden this year as the Knicks, who have lost six straight at home and are 1-6 at MSG…. The Pacers and the Hoosiers won back-to-back games at MSG after the Pacers beat the Knicks 103-96 in OT on Wednesday…Crean on facing the UConn backcourt: “I don’t know Ryan [Boatright] or Shabazz [Napier] personally, but they are really, really good.”…Washington has dropped six straight games at the Garden dating to 2007…BC dropped to 1-4 with the loss to UConn.

     



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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.