Sunday will be the final game at Assembly Hall for at least four seniors--Verdell Jones III, Tom Pritchard, Daniel Moore, and Kory Barnett--and perhaps the final game for Matt Roth, who will have a year of eligibility remaining if he gets a medical redshirt year. Four of the seniors--Pritchard, Jones, Roth, and Moore--saw significant playing time their freshman year, during the nightmarish 2008-09 season. I have been reflecting a lot on that season in recent days, particularly as IU ran out the clock on its 15-point win over Michigan State on Wednesday. Let's not forget how ugly it was: 6-25, 1-17 in the Big Ten. A trip to Maui that included blowout losses to Notre Dame and St. Joseph's and nearly a loss to Division II Chaminade. Home losses to Northeastern and Lipscomb. It was incredibly ugly, and the freshmen, both those who remain and those who left, such as Malik Story and Nick Williams--were forced to carry the load, ready or not. This season has been lots of fun, but perhaps nothing is more gratifying that the certainty that guys who endured so much losing will end their careers in the NCAA Tournament.
(Special thanks to LoneStarHoosier for the idea and for gathering some of the video clips).
Tom Pritchard. Pritchard was one of two freshmen (Roth was the other) who were holdovers from Kelvin Sampson's last recruiting class. The elite recruits from that class, Devin Ebanks and Terrelle Holloway, were given their releases after the program fell apart. Pritchard stuck with it, and he was rewarded with a starting role and scored nearly 10 points per game. His scoring average has declined every year (from 9.7 points in 29 minutes as a freshman to 1.4 points in 10 minutes this season), but he has been a steady influence, shooting nearly 60 percent from the field over his last three seasons, and coming up with a spectactular play every so often, never so famously as in this one:
It's debatable what is better about that clip, Pritchard's dunk or the overheated reaction of IU legend Quinn Buckner, but it was a bright moment in a bad season. He almost reprised that play against MSU last week, and hopefully he will go out with a bang against Purdue.
Verdell Jones III: Verdell Jones III had been a lighting rod during his career, and as more highly touted recruits have come in, Jones's value to the team and whether he is deserving of playing time has been a subject of great debate. Jones chose IU, post-apocalypse, over Tubby Smith and Minnesota, and I've always wondered if he had any second thoughts. Either way, the decision to select IU has finally paid off in his senior season. Unlike that of his classmates, Jones's playing time has been steady over the years, and he has gone from a skinny freshman who was knocked cold by a screen against Cornell his freshman year to a veteran who had the ball in his hands for one of the most significant moments in IU history
Matt Roth: Roth was another holdover from the final class that signed with Sampson. Like Pritchard, Roth was expected to be a role player on a good team, but was thrust into the role of being a contributor for a horrible rebuilding team. Roth is a true specialist. Over 90 percent of his career field goal attempts have been from behind the arc. There were few highlights during the 1-17 Big Ten season of 2009, but one of them, albeit in a loss, was Roth's school record-tying three point flurry against Ohio State. Roth graduated at the end of the last school year and has been in grad school in 2011-12. He is participating today but may return (although almost certainly as a walk-on barring unexpected attrition).
Daniel Moore: Moore came to Indiana as an invited walk-on, but he isn't the typical walk-on. Moore received some Division I interest and was an Indiana All-Star in basketball, as well as first team all state in soccer. I post some video of his high school soccer career for a couple of reasons. First, well, let's face it, while Moore is a steady hand at the point, he doesn't have many scoring highlights out there, and, like most of his classmates, his minutes have diminished since his freshman year. Second, it's a reminder that Moore had options other than paying his own way to play for IU at a time when things were pretty ugly. There's a tendency to think of walk-ons as simply ordinary guys who got lucky. That isn't the case with Moore.
Kory Barnett: I couldn't find any video for the player who describes himself as "the human victory cigar," but Barnett and other walk-ons are remarkable for their dedication to the program, showing up for practice just like every other player, knowing that the only reward will be occasional garbage time minutes. Barnett did play a role in one of my favorite moments of this season. Before the IU-Purdue game, I was getting a little fired up discussing the game with an old friend from IU. I said something like, "I don't just want to win up there. I want to whip them. I want to win by 15. I want walk-ons on the floor at the end." Little did I know that 15 would be too conservative. Tom Crean's late timeout allowed Barnett and other walkons to play a small role in a win at Purdue, and had the added bonus of agitating the Mackey Arena crowd. Well done, Kory. I hope that it wasn't your only playing time against Purdue this year.
It's been a rough four years as a fan, so I can't imagine how tough it has been for those who have no choice but to eat, sleep and breathe IU basketball every day. I always appreciate the commitment of those associated with IU basketball even in the best of times, but especially in the worst of times. This class will hold a special place in the history of IU basketball and in the hearts of IU fans. The rewards of national relevance and an NCAA Tournament berth are richly deserved. Thank you guys, for everything you have done for IU. Now, beat the hell out of Purdue.