When Indiana returned to the national stage last season, most people pointed to one singular moment as the reason for the resurrection: Cody Zeller's decision to come to Bloomington.
It was undoubtedly a fantastic coup for Indiana coach Tom Crean. On the court, Zeller has been every bit the superstar Hoosier fans were hoping for and the driving force behind the program's abrupt turnaround. Off the court, Zeller's pledge to the Hoosiers sparked a spree of commitments from future recruits, injecting the IU fan base with hope and excitement.
We didn't know it at the time, but when Zeller took the court for his freshman season, the days of embarrassing blowout losses and court-storming wins over 20th-ranked teams were gone. Indiana was back. And it was spectacular.
But Zeller didn't do it alone, getting assistance from a tandem fondly known as Sheeladipo.
A duo of lesser-publicized 2010 recruits, Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey, were vital to IU's success last season. As a pair of Rivals.com three-star prospects, there wasn't too much buzz surrounding either player leading up to their debut seasons. But Oladipo and Sheehey made an instant impact with the Hoosiers, showing big-time athleticism (love Vic's reaction) and flashes of brilliance as freshmen before improving their all-around games and becoming significant contributors to last year's 27-win team.
In addition to the tangible on-court production, Sheehey and Oladipo gave the Hoosiers some much-needed attitude, or what these young pups are calling swag. And they brought lots and lots and lots of it.
Crean deserves a ton of credit for not only spotting underappreciated talents like Sheehey and Oladipo, but also developing them as players once they got to campus.
Well, Crean is doing it again.
When Bradley fired Jim Les in March of 2011, by NCAA rule, all of the Braves' incoming signees could be released from their National Letters of Intent, if they so desired. One of the program's incoming players who elected to do just that was Remy Abell.
Rated a 3-star recruit by Rivals.com and a 2-star recruit by ESPN.com and Scout.com, the Louisville Eastern product reopened his commitment. Abell held offers from mostly mid-major schools -- IUPUI, Ohio, Xavier and Western Kentucky to name a few -- but Crean, with an open scholarship, saw something he liked and went after him.
Abell came on a visit to Indiana on April 25, 2011. Two days later, he was a Hoosier, joining Zeller and Austin Etherington in Indiana's 2011 class.
With the state of the program at that time (Daniel Moore in the rotation), the general consensus among IU fans was -- or should have been -- "if he can play at all, we'll take him." Still, Abell looked to be, at best, a roster fill-in who could provide depth.
Boy, were we wrong.
Abell only played 8.3 minutes per game as a freshman, but his role drastically increased as the year progressed, especially as Verdell Jones struggled with injuries down the stretch. Crean never hesitated to use Abell in key situations, putting him in the game for extended minutes in the first half at North Carolina State, the home loss to Minnesota and the loss at then-No. 22 Michigan.
With Jones sidelined because of a shoulder injury, Abell's first game as a true key cog in the rotation came at Purdue. He played fearlessly, coming up with 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting. He capped his breakout performance -- and the victory -- with a late backbreaking 3-pointer, one of the signature moments of the season.
Abell saw a drop in minutes once Jones returned, but he resumed his spot in the rotation after Jones' season-ending knee injury in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament. Abell filled in aptly the rest of the way, shooting 7 for 13 over the final four contests and averaging 4.7 points and 15.5 minutes per game during that stretch.
For the season, Abell shot 40 percent from beyond the arc and 78 percent from the free throw line while showing the ability to drive the ball to the basket. Built like a linebacker, he was one of the team's best on-ball defenders, as well.
Despite the impressive rookie season, Abell figured to be facing an uphill battle if he wanted an increased role this year. With Yogi Ferrell, Oladipo and Jordy Hulls locked in to big minutes, plus the return of Maurice Creek, his role appeared to be a limited one.
Abell didn't get the memo.
Through two games, he's been one of Indiana's best players. Like usual, Abell has provided energy and defense off the bench, but he's also shooting the ball like Ray Allen -- like Ray Freakin' Allen.
It's just two games, so the regression monster is coming, but Abell has hit all seven of his shot attempts, including five 3-pointers, and 7 of 8 from the free throw line. He's practically perfect.
Jerry West, er, I mean Abell, opened the season by drilling two 3-pointers and burying six freebies for an incredibly efficient 12 points against Bryant. He followed it up with a 5-for-5 day for 14 points in the win over North Dakota State, sinking a trio of triples while halting the perfect season with a 1-for-2 night from the charity stripe.
Abell has scored 26 points on just seven shots for an impossibly good 3.7 points per shot attempt. Let me check: yup, that'll work.
At the press conference after the North Dakota State game, Abell was asked what's been the reason behind his improvement. He gave a simple answer.
"Hard work," the sophomore said. "Teammates pushing me, coaches pushing me. I'm just here to play my role and do my job. Whenever my name is called off the bench, step in and be ready to play and make an impact on offense and defense."
Abell is an example of two of the great qualities about this IU team: its depth and its desire to get better.
Obviously, he's not going to shoot 100 percent this season, but the fact that he knocked down 40 percent from deep a year ago and appears to be an even more adept and confident shooter this year speaks volumes about the work Abell has put into his game. Shooting was supposed to be the one thing he couldn't do coming out of high school, and while his shot won't find its way onto any instructional videos, the ball is going in at a high rate.
Like previously stated, it's only two games, but Abell looks like Indiana's most improved player. Oladipo and Sheehey made huge jumps in their sophomore campaigns. Abell appears to be making that same leap.