As starting Indiana point guard Yogi Ferrell enters his senior season, he has a chance to make an indelible mark on the Hoosiers, and on the IU basketball program. Regardless of what happens this season, however, fans should be thankful for what Ferrell has brought to the team during his time at IU. And in the one-and-done era of college hoops, Ferrell is proof that there is still a place for veteran leadership in the locker rooms, along with stability at a position.
Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell came to Indiana University exactly when everything was starting together for Tom Crean and the Hoosiers. Coming off an overachieving season in which the Hoosiers beat #1 Kentucky and made it to the Sweet 16, expectations were high and Indiana was the top-ranked team in the preseason. Coming out of Park Tudor in Indianapolis, Ferrell was not daunted as the starting point guard for a team with the veteran leadership of Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford, along with two future top-5 draft picks in Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo. Coming in and being the floor general of this team was a lot for Tom Crean to ask of the freshman, but Yogi performed admirably that season, and showed his first glimpse of future stardom against Butler, when he sank a three-pointer to tie a game and force overtime. With the talent on that roster, Ferrell only finished with 7.6 points per game, but the groundwork for a successful career was there.
Indiana became Ferrell's team during a disappointing sophomore campaign. Yes, Will Sheehey was the veteran presence on the team, but it was Ferrell who grew into the face of the program during that season. In the frontcourt, Ferrell had Noah Vonleh, who had potential to contribute a double-double every game, to find, but on outside shots, he was mostly on his own that year. Ferrell stepped up to the mantle, not only as the point guard on that team, but also, more often that not, he kept Indiana in games that they had no business being in.
However, it was an off-court postseason incident that unfortunately sticks out from that season, as Ferrell, along with Stan Robinson, were arrested when trying to use fake IDs to get into Sports over Little 5 weekend. Almost every college student makes some dumb decisions in his or her time at undergrad, but Yogi's was on full display as a prominent of the school's most well-known athletic team. But this incident eventually seemed to be a lesson learned for Yogi, as from this point on, he seemed to take more of a leadership role for the Hoosiers, both on and off the court.
For his junior season, Ferrell got much-needed help shooting the ball. James Blackmon Jr. came to Bloomington to create an all-Indiana backcourt with Yogi, and Robert Johnson and Nick Zeisloft added some sweet outside shots as well. However, Vonleh was gone, and Hanner Mosuqera-Perea couldn't make up for the frontcourt deficit, meaning that once again, the Hoosiers were shorthanded, meaning that Yogi had to overachieve to get his team in position to win games. Indiana once again returned to the NCAA Tournament, but an impressive 24-point performance against Fred VanVleet and Wichita State wasn't enough for Yogi to get the Hoosiers past the first round.
Unfortunately, three moments from last season that involved Yogi in end-of-game situations stand out. The first was against Maryland in College Park, when Ferrell had a chance to knock in a game-winning three-pointer in the final seconds, but the shot went off the back rim. Two weeks later, in a rematch against Purdue, a shot from Yogi suffered a similar fate in the closing seconds. Then there was the Michigan State game, which hurt the most. In this final home game of the year, the Hoosiers mounted a furious comeback that had them down two in the closing seconds, when Ferrell, who naturally had the ball in his hands, was fouled. The first free throw went in. The second was an uncharacteristic miss. Game over, Spartans win.
Perhaps it was this free-throw miss that drove Yogi back to IU for one last ride, but regardless, he surprised many Hoosier fans by returning to Indiana for his senior season. After the season, he seemed to be dropping hints about turning pro, and most fans knew and understood that even if he didn't get the call in the NBA Draft, he could be making a good living playing in Europe with his skills or running the show on a D-League team this season. However, Ferrell decided to stay, returning to an Indiana team with the most talent - and the most hype - since his first year in Bloomington. Five-star recruit Thomas Bryant will make up for last year's lack of frontcourt presence, and the top shooters from last season will still be there.
In the past few years, two growing trends have dominated college basketball. The first is the ascent of "positonless" players. College basketball no longer requires a balanced team with upperclassmen and players at distinct positions in order to win titles. Last year's freshmen-led Duke team is a prime example of this. In addition, a player no longer needs to be tied to one position in order to make a name for himself. Anthony Davis, who seemingly played all five positions in his one year at Kentucky, is the prototype here, but last year Justise Winslow played exciting positionless ball for Duke, and Troy Williams fits this mold for IU as well. And of course, even Cody Zeller liked to take advantage of his outside shot in his two years at Indiana - and Hoosiers fans are optimistic that Thomas Bryant will do the same.
The second and more evident trend is the era of one-and-dones and graduate transfers. Since the NBA prevented athletes from leaving college until after one season to go pro, this has just delayed the process for some, creating some classes of freshmen superstars. Ultimately, if coaches like John Calipari want to create a class of freshmen superstars and see them all leave a year later, they are absolutely within their right to do so. On the other side of the equation, the graduate transfer rule has become increasingly popular, as more and more upperclassmen flock to take advantage of this rule to finish their careers out on another squad. Max Bielfeldt, for example, is coming over from Michigan to play his final season for the Hoosiers this year.
Yogi Ferrell stands in sharp contrast to these growing trends in college hoops. At 5-11, he has been the starting point guard for Indiana and no other position - though he does have an outside shot that would make other point guards envious. In addition, he is a commodity that is becoming rarer and rarer in college hoops - a senior who has spent all four years of his eligibility at one school.
Yogi Ferrell might not be the most pro-ready prospect on this team, but he is Indiana's most valuable one - he is the lynchpin, the glue that keeps this team together. Without him, the offense does not have the same engine, and the player that would step up as facilitator or distributor to the high-powered offense is unclear. And while Ferrell has that extra gear to be a the scoring threat that not every point guard has, the Hoosiers seemed to win more often last year when Ferrell wasn't carrying the load for the team. In the team's 14 losses, Yogi averaged 19.5 points per game, while only averaging 14.1 points per game in the 20 victories.
There should be no debate over whether Yogi is an all-time Hoosier great: That part of his legacy already has been decided. He is not just a four-year player, but a four-year starter, in an environment with one-and-done players and programs with a "what have you done for me lately?" attitude. In addition, he is a true point guard, who has given Indiana four years of stability at the position that is the quarterback of an offense in hoops. And he is from the Hoosier State, where basketball is still king, and to many old-school and even some newer fans, having a local player star for the team still means a lot. As Yogi's final season begins, take a moment to appreciate what he has brought to Indiana these past four years, and how Indiana - or any other college basketball program - may not have another player like him for a long while.