Noah Vonleh participated in this year's McDonald's All-American game, and he ranked as the highest-rated player ever to sign for Indiana under Tom Crean, but it has been his commitment and work ethic that have impressed his new teammates.
A McDonald’s All-American and the highest-ranked player ever to sign with Indiana under Tom Crean, Noah Vonleh brought to Bloomington this summer credentials that probably spoke for themselves. But since his arrival, his resume hasn’t been what has impressed Vonleh’s teammates.
“The biggest thing that I’ve seen is he’s willing to learn. He’s always wanting to improve his game,” said sophomore forward Jeremy Hollowell. “He’s always going to go hard; he’s always going to give it his best.”
Just a week after assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Kenny Johnson said Vonleh would “move a cot” into Cook Hall and work out around the clock if he could, current Hoosiers backed up that same assertion with testimony of their own.
And in his first meeting with the Indiana press corps since officially joining the program, Vonleh got to address Johnson’s praise.
“We’ve been working hard in the weight room. It’s real intense. I’ve gotten a lot stronger,” Vonleh said. “I need to get physically ready, mentally ready.”
In an offseason defined in large part by replacement — of experience, of leadership, of veteran presence and most of all, of physical production — Vonleh has arguably exceeded even the loftiest expectations attached to his arrival.
According to the player himself, he’s closing in on 20 pounds added in the weight room this spring and summer, which he said has made him a significantly better player in the post.
Participating in both the Big Man Skills Academy and the LeBron James Skills Academy, Vonleh was often one of the youngest players (if not the youngest player) in the college field, but he drew strong reviews for his athleticism and basketball savvy. At James’ camp in Las Vegas, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas pulled Vonleh aside and singled him out for particular praise, though not for his physical tools.
Vonleh said he's added about 20 pounds since arriving at Indiana, which has helped him grow his post game accordingly.
“Jay Bilas came up to me, he said, ‘Your leadership can become a great strength if you keep working on it,’” Vonleh said.
All of this ranks as encouraging in Bloomington, because the Hoosiers will need Vonleh to be a productive member of the rotation, and probably the starting lineup, from the first day of his Indiana career onward.
With Cody Zeller, Derek Elston and Christian Watford all either graduated or moved on to the NBA, Indiana returns precious little post production from a year ago.
Sophomore forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea, still viewed largely as a work-in-progress player with exceptional defensive potential, is the only returning Hoosier with significant game experience in the post. Freshman Luke Fischer and sophomores Hollowell and Peter Jurkin could figure into the rotation in the frontcourt, but IU will likely need Vonleh to carry the heaviest load down low.
Versatile at 6-foot-9 and (now) 236 pounds, Vonleh has the ability to stretch his range out as far as 17-18 feet, and his 7-foot-3 wingspan could help him make an impact rebounding the ball right away as well.
And that newly developed strength, Vonleh said, has helped him add consistency to his back-to-the-basket game as well, a potential boon for a program that will need a new anchoring presence in the paint, with Zeller now a Charlotte Bobcat.
“I think it’s helped me a lot,” he said. “I can bump guys off better, I can finish stronger, things like that.”
With six freshmen and four sophomores on a roster that in the past two seasons had been routinely praised for its deep well of experience, Indiana figures to endure its share of youthful mistakes this coming winter.
Vonleh said Indiana’s freshmen, some of whom, like him, will probably see significant playing time in their rookie seasons, have therefore worked to embrace the new level of commitment expected of them in college.
“We take that into our mind and we just go out there and play hard,” Vonleh said.