Indiana follows Yogi Ferrell's lead into Sweet 16

Kevin Ferrell Sr. first noticed something different about his son, Yogi, during a youth YMCA game.

Another father had talked some pregame trash to the elder Ferrell, the usual "my son is better than your son" stuff. Before the tipoff, Ferrell pointed the other man's child out to Yogi and told him about the challenge.

Yogi Ferrell looked his dad in the eyes and said, "I got this." Then he went out and hounded the other kid all over the court.

Yogi was all of 5 years old at the time.

"When I saw that, I said, 'This kid's for real,'" Kevin Ferrell Sr. recalled. "It takes something on the inside to do that."

Intensity and drive have long defined Yogi Ferrell, whom Indiana coach Tom Crean describes as "one of the great workers I've ever been associated with." What changed during his senior year at Indiana is that he now channels that fire toward leading those around him.

That's a main reason why the fifth-seeded Hoosiers are in the Sweet 16, where they will meet No. 1 seed North Carolina on Friday night in Philadelphia. They will go as far as their determined point guard drags them.

In many ways, Ferrell has been groomed for this moment since preschool. Kevin Ferrell Sr. was a stay-at-home dad who coached Yogi's AAU teams and hired a personal trainer when his son was 9 years old. "The Hoop Scoop," a prep basketball recruiting service, named Ferrell the top fourth-grader in the country in 2004. When his dad feared Yogi's head was expanding, he pulled him out of organized basketball for two years.

"He's totally taken his leadership to another place," Crean said. "And I think that's what's made him even that much more of an incredible player."

Ferrell might have been the most important recruit in the Crean era, a two-time high school state champion from Indianapolis. He arrived in Bloomington as a freshman on a team that had Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller. Those Hoosiers were ranked No. 1 for 10 weeks during the 2012-13 season.

Ferrell was able to contribute, and blend in, on that Sweet 16 team, but was never asked to be much of a vocal leader. He led the Hoosiers in scoring the next two years but not in other, more important, ways.

"He was a floor general, but he also had to be a great listener on that team," said his mother, Dr. Libby Ferrell. "He tried to be a leader his sophomore and junior year, but I don't know that necessarily people were looking up or listening to him. We had some bad seeds on those teams that we had to get cleaned up."

As the Ferrell family made lists of pros and cons this offseason as to whether Yogi would return to school or enter the NBA draft, they came up with two non-negotiable facts: Yogi needed to develop into a true leader, and he had to do it for the embattled Crean.

Yogi and his father, who had some disagreements over Yogi's court demeanor as a sophomore, had long talks this summer about what makes a leader. Don't come back as a senior unless you're willing to really take charge, his dad told him.

"I took that very much to heart," Yogi said. "I was going to do everything in my power to make this team better and listen to the coaches, to see what they want and relay it to my team. This is my last go around and I wanted to make it as special as possible."

Ferrell has scarcely stopped talking on the floor since the season began, prodding teammates and serving as a consigliere of sorts to Crean. It was Ferrell who suggested to Crean in the second half of last week's second-round win over Kentucky that the Hoosiers should look more to Thomas Bryant, the team's freshman big man. Bryant -- who got in a nose-to-nose confrontation with Ferrell during a Maui Invitational loss back in November -- helped break that game open.

"Early on, I didn't want to get on guys or talk to them about what they needed to do," Ferrell said. "But Coach Crean has stuck with me, and I just started to realize that for us to be successful, I was going to have to do that more."

The Ferrell family didn't exactly deliver an ultimatum to Indiana that Crean also return. But had Indiana made a coaching change last offseason, Ferrell wouldn't be wearing the cream and crimson right now.

"That was absolutely 100 percent important," Kevin Ferrell Sr. said. "There would have been no reason to start his career over with someone who might have a different philosophy, who might hinder his growth as opposed to nurturing it."

The Ferrells and Crean have a symbiotic relationship. Libby Ferrell says she will sometimes call Crean to talk about even non-basketball topics. She describes this Indiana team as "a true family," a trait that's clearly important to the Ferrell clan.

Kevin hops in a rental car to drive to just about every Indiana game. He says he has missed only three Hoosiers contests in Yogi's career. Yogi's two sisters, Khloe and Kelsey, became surprise stars of the first weekend for wearing T-shirts that cut their star sibling down to size. "Yogi isn't famous, he's just my annoying brother," read one of the shirts.

The Ferrell girls had different shirts made for the first and second rounds and have new ones in the works for Friday night.

"We're going to break 'em out right after the national anthem," Libby Ferrell said. "Yogi doesn't get to find out what they say until everybody else does."

Kevin had a lighter joke for his son this week. He texted him a picture of that fourth-grade Hoop Scoop ranking, saying, "Don't forget where you came from." Yogi responded at 12:15 a.m. Tuesday with this: "Dad, just got out of the gym. Still grinding."

The drive and intensity remain the same for Yogi Ferrell. Luckily for Indiana, he's now channeling it in all the right directions.