IU prepares for suspended players' returns

When Indiana and its fans were informed of the NCAA's decision to label A-HOPE founder and Indiana Elite coach Mark Adams a booster based on a few hundred dollars of window-sticker purchases made in the 1980s, they were outraged.

That outrage was mostly directed at the suspensions of freshmen forwards Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin, two A-HOPE projects who count Adams as their personal guardian. When their appeal wasn't granted, the players were required (worst of all, in my opinion) to pay money to charity, and sit out the first nine games of Indiana's season.

You can question the NCAA's prosecutorial nitpicking, and at the time I did. With the benefit of perspective and tweets from NCAA staffers, it's pretty clear the NCAA had identified Adams' involvement with Indiana's program as too tight for its own comfort, and was willing to take any excuse possible -- even decades-old window stickers and "booster" status -- to exert some control over the situation.

That is obviously not the best way for the NCAA enforcement committee to go about its business. (Q.v. this.) But I'm not sure IU fans should be so quick to defend Adams, either. The Illinois High School State Athletic Association -- which ruled Monday that A-HOPE had "taken advantage" of four Sudanese high school basketball players -- is only more reason to at least maintain some healthy skepticism. (I know this is not what fans do, but still.)


Through all the outrage, I rarely heard Indiana fans acknowledge the obvious: That it didn't really matter whether Jurkin and Mosquera-Perea played in the first nine games or not. Sure, you'd like your young guys to get some experience, and you don't want anyone sitting in street clothes, but in terms of affecting Indiana's nonconference record? It didn't look like an issue then. After nine games and nine wins, it doesn't look like an issue now.

There is, however, the small matter of getting the duo into an already tight rotation. Indiana's balance (and its tendency to blow out opponents) has allowed Tom Crean to play no one player more than 70 percent of available minutes. As it stands, the Hoosiers currently have a pretty identifiable rotation: Jordan Hulls, Yogi Ferrell, Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford and Cody Zeller start. Will Sheehey comes off the bench and plays near-starter's minutes. Guard Remy Abell and freshman forward Jeremy Hollowell come off the bench, and Austin Etherington (now sidelined with an ACL tear broken kneecap*) and Maurice Creek fill in where applicable.

There is good and bad news in the freshmen forwards' returns. The good news? As you may notice, only Zeller, Watford and Hollowell can guard forwards, and the latter two are tallish small forwards as much as they are low-block guys. The bad news? With all those guards getting time, someone's minutes are going to get cut. How does that change the look of the team?

The Indy Star's Terry Hutchens doesn't think it will make all that much difference early in the transition, and he's probably right. Jurkin is likely to start his participation as a big-bodied rebounder and fill-in player for when Zeller is in need of the bench. Mosquera-Perea, on the other hand, is much more likely to contribute right away. Where Watford is polished and smooth, HMP is athletic, brute-force strong and raw. He might be exactly what Indiana needs on the glass.

In the next couple of weeks, there may be some growing pains -- the rotation may get jumbled, or Jurkin or HMP may need more time to catch up to the speed of the college game. But in the long term, these additions only make Indiana deeper, tougher and more physical, which are, coincidentally, exactly the qualities they need.

In other words, the best team in the country is about to get better. Kind of crazy, isn't it?

(*An earlier version of this post said Austin Etherington's injury was a torn ACL. My apologies for the error.)