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The 'epitome' of a Hoosier

In the same grade at Bloomington High School South, Jordan Hulls (1) and Caleb Konstanski, a captain on the IU men's soccer team, became good friends, a relationship carried into college.

Caleb Konstanski and Jordan Hulls don’t talk about their teams.

They talk about sports, yes. Friends since at least their sophomore year of high school at Bloomington South, they chat college basketball, the NBA, soccer, whatever. But they don’t talk about IU men’s soccer much, and they don’t talk about IU men’s basketball that often either.

“We understand we’re both blessed and fortunate to be in our situations,” Konstanski said with a laugh this week. “But when we’re around each other, it’s kind of funny — we both give each other a hard time about different things, but we really don’t talk about our sports much.”

The “situations” Konstanski refers to are remarkably similar, as are the goals. They might not talk about them, but they’re nonetheless a bond that links both Bloomington natives, now senior Indiana athletes, and captains — officially or otherwise — for two of the most decorated programs in Indiana history.

The “epitome” of a Hoosier

Independently of one another, men’s basketball coach Tom Crean and men’s soccer coach Todd Yeagley used the same word to describe Hulls and Konstanski, respectively.

Crean:

“That kid epitomizes what we're doing. That kid epitomizes Indiana basketball in so many ways.”

Konstanski (pictured above) has been a steadying force for Indiana defensively in much the same way Hulls is for his team on the court.

Yeagley:

“Caleb epitomizes what you want out of a senior. He’s just gotten better every year, and little parts of his game he’s honed and worked on. Players see that around him, and say, ‘Yea, I can get better at this.’ And that bleeds into the rest of the team.”

The independently similar descriptions aren’t surprising to those who can characterize either young man — they are remarkably similar as athletes.

Both went to Bloomington South, where they excelled in their given sports. Both wound up stepping into leadership roles early at Indiana, and both found themselves at the center of new coaching regimes, trying to rebuild proud programs hoping for a return to the elite stage, whether it be the College Cup or the Final Four.

But the “epitome” label is grounded particularly in each player’s reputation.

They are hard workers, team leaders and details men. They demand from their teammates only as much as they demand from themselves, and from themselves, they demand much. They are often their squads’ hardest workers, captains, named or otherwise, vocal leaders and steadying presences for two of the top programs, in their sports, in the country.

“Both of them are very much similar in some of their strengths,” said Yeagley, himself a Bloomington native and former IU men’s soccer star. “Different parts of the court or field, but equally as important.”

Perhaps, Konstanski offers, that’s why they have grown so close.

Evolving into an elite point guard as a senior, Hulls (left) turned in an MVP performance in the Legends Classic in Brooklyn this week.

Though they do not necessarily work out together, the two players see and know well each other’s work ethics. Hulls has put Konstanski through shooting drills. He saw Konstanski change his diet last offseason in an effort to improve ahead of his final season. Konstanski has spent time in Cook Hall, and he’s seen up close some of what Hulls does to improve on a daily basis.

All of that, both players say, explains their deep-seated friendship.

“I think that is one of the big reasons that him and I are such good friends,” Konstanski said. “You surround yourself with people who are similar to you and are gonna make you better in all aspects of life, and I think Jordan and I bring the best out of one another. …

“When you’re around somebody like that, it makes you want to be better. I recognize his work ethic. It motivates me, and I think my work ethic and motivation motivates him.”

Fast friends, now Hoosiers

Hulls admits that the recruiting process began sooner for Konstanski, who was heralded at a younger age. Their friendship, though, began well before that.

The two met when they were in elementary school, when Konstanski considered joining Hulls’ father J.C.’s AAU team.

“I don’t know what happened. I think he had a lot of soccer,” said Hulls, laughing. “I think it worked out for him.”

Both Hulls and Konstanski (22) occupy similar roles for their teams, and they are both known as driven, motivated workers.

By high school, they began taking classes together, and by sophomore year, they were close friends.

Recruiters came for Konstanski first. A prolific goalscorer at South, he poured in 28 goals in his final two seasons as a Panther, including 18 as a senior. He was a first-team all-state selection in his final high school season, and an easy fit for a program of Indiana’s pedigree.

“I feel like everybody knew about Caleb a lot earlier than people knew about me,” Hulls said.

Hulls might be right. He was a late bloomer at South, coveted largely for his shooting prowess until he moved into a point guard role in AAU play as a junior.

Suddenly, his court presence and savvy revealed themselves, and high-major programs began taking notice. Crean, freshly arrived from Marquette and desperate for backcourt help, pressed hard, eventually winning a commitment from Hulls, who would then go on to lead South to an undefeated season and a Class 4A state championship. As a senior, he was named Mr. Basketball.

All along, both players swear the decision to come to Indiana wasn’t one made in concert, but rather just a happy coincidence.

“We’d always talk about what schools were talking to him or whatever,” Hulls said, “but as far as talking about going to IU together or anything, that never happened. It kind of just fell into place that way.”

The opportunities in front of them

This is where the parallel career paths come nearest to intersection:

Indiana might be a legitimate national title threat in men’s soccer and men’s basketball this season.

The former fields a supremely talented squad, one that has struggled at times in front of the net, outside of leading scorer Eriq Zavaleta, but nonetheless is two wins away from its first College Cup appearance in eight years. The latter is currently No. 1 in the country, a presumptive Final Four selection and deeper than perhaps any other national contender.

Both players, predictably, stand at the center of their respective teams’ hopes for national excellence.

Hulls is an emotional anchor for the No. 1 basketball team in the country, now 5-0. With a fresh influx of talent into the program in the offseason, in particular the addition of McDonald’s All-American point guard Yogi Ferrell, it was wondered if Hulls’ role would diminish, yet so far this season, he boasts an assist-to-turnover ratio of 4-to-1, and he was named Legends Classic MVP after a pair of sterling, composed performances in wins in Brooklyn.

Konstanski has been a rock for his Hoosiers in the heart of defense, working in tandem with fellow long-time starter Luis Soffner, Indiana’s goalkeeper. He has started Indiana’s last 42 games, and 60 of the Hoosiers’ last 61. He scores a goal here and there, but Konstanski’s best contribution in that period has been a tough steadiness in what is inarguably one of the most important areas of the lineup.

Hulls will lead Indiana out against Ball State on Sunday, and he and his teammates face a big test in their Big Ten/ACC Challenge game Tuesday night against No. 9 North Carolina.

Konstanski is getting first crack at a deep postseason run, having helped Indiana to a 4-1 second-round NCAA Tournament win against Xavier. At 3 p.m. Sunday, he will captain the Hoosiers in South Bend against No. 1 seed Notre Dame, standing as an underdog but nonetheless a capable one.

“(Hulls) bought into that system, and growing up here, I’ve always believed in IU soccer and what it means to be an IU soccer player,” Konstanski said. “Bringing a championship back here, the College Cup, would mean a lot to me, and I know bringing another banner back to IU would mean a lot to him.”

So here stand the two old friends with one final opportunity.

Hulls helped rebuild Indiana basketball under Crean, while Konstanski toiled to restructure Indiana soccer under Yeagley. Both occupy important statistical and intangible roles for their respective teams. Both are local products with a healthy respect for the tradition they are tasked with carrying on. Both might yet lift at least one more trophy in the colors they’ve worn for the last four years.

“It’s something that we strive for, and our competitive nature, we want it really bad,” Hulls said. “It’s pretty neat to be able to say two hometown kids have a shot at doing that.”

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