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April 23, 2015

James Blackmon, Jr.

Tom Crean

TOM CREAN:  This press conference won't be the hour and a half yesterday's was.  We've got workouts here in a little bit.
Thanks for coming in here, and before I give it to James here, then we'll go from there, I just wanted to make a couple points about what James has done.  Obviously those of you that have followed us for some time know that he's been a priority of the program since he was in the eighth grade and offered him a scholarship early, and four years later, after a tremendous career in this state, one of the best careers ever in this state, he chose to come to Indiana, and he did some outstanding things this year.
And thrust into not only the lineup, which he earned his way into, but thrust very importantly and probably even more dramatically into a spotlight, because of what we needed on our team and what we needed to be able to accomplish and what we needed on the offensive end and what we needed him to do on the defensive end, all those different things.
And one thing about James, it's a small group.  You wish that every player got it like this, and a lot of them get it at different times in their careers, but when you come in with your No.1 focus being improvement, and not just talking about it, hoping about it, or hoping for it, you know, pontificating about it but actually going in there and doing something about it, that's exactly what he's done.  That's exactly what he's done since he walked in here.  Robert Johnson was the same way.  It was just like what Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehy did when they came in.
A lot of people like to work.  Some other people like to play.  But when you love to work on your game and you love to play, and then you can carry yourself with the humility, even at a young age like he is, at how important it is to get better, and he got coached as hard and tough as anybody on the team this year in the sense of what was expected of him from us, what he was capable of, but most importantly, what he thought he was capable of, and he's responded daily to that, and it doesn't matter that the season has ended.
We'll go into our 12th individual here in a little bit today, but he's probably doubled that, the plus side, with the amount of times he's been in here in the gym.  I come in here Saturday afternoon, there he is.  I hear about the two times he's in here on Sunday, and we're not even doing our workouts that day.
I said when we signed him it would be an honor to coach him.  It is, and he just continues to get better and better, and the other thing we said, when you sign James Blackmon, you're just not signing him but you're joining forces with a pretty impressive family.  There's been some impressive families in this state, and we've had a chance to be a part of it with the Zellers; well, the Blackmons are the same way.  I'm going it turn it over to him.
JAMES BLACKMON JR.:¬† Well, first off, I just thank everybody for coming here today.¬† After talking about the situation with Coach Crean and my family, I just felt like the best situation for me is to come back for next year and play my sophomore year here and continue to be a student‑athlete at Indiana University and just keep bettering myself.
TOM CREAN:  And I'd like to add he is on a track.  He is going to be at 40 percent of the way to graduation at the end of the summer, and that's pretty impressive.  We don't have a definitive date on that what early graduation is yet, but it'll be an early graduation if he keeps those kind of things moving in that direction.
But the thing I like best is even going through this process, and I alluded to this yesterday about our team, not to him specifically but I will today, there has never been a time this off‑season, with the exception of getting a little rest right after the season ended, but never been a time where he has not been fully engaged with his teammates, in making and being a part of helping his team get better, with the workouts, with the conditioning, with the strength training, with the going outside that we do, with the endurance running, all those different things, but very importantly, like I said, too, working so hard on his own.¬† So it's a work ethic like that, it's a desire to improve, it's a humility of knowing that you have a lot of talent, but at the same time trying to get the most out of it, and I think the most important thing for him and his family is that it's not just about having an opportunity to go, which he did, and the feedback and the research, it was mixed, but at the same time when it comes to opportunity, yes, opportunity.
But I think coming to Indiana, I think being a part of this, I think in his mind, and he can answer this even better, there's a lot more than just being able to go.¬† There's a lot more than just being able to have an opportunity.¬† It's very much about being able to‑‑ when that destination does come, that he's ready to go out there and contribute, that he's not just somebody that had a chance to go but somebody that can go and contribute and ultimately play this time of year, not just during the winter months, but play this time of year because that's what the separator becomes.
He's got a lot of steps to take to keep getting better for the long run and for the short run, but the great thing about it is he buys into that and he works very hard at it, and he gets a chance like yesterday to be around Victor and see the level of work that he puts into it two years into the NBA.¬† He sees Noah walk back in here last night, Christian Watford will be in here today.¬† When you see guys like that‑‑ Victor went through two individuals yesterday, and he went as hard or harder than anybody else, and that's why our program's culture is so strong that they get to turn on the TV and watch Eric Gordon right now or they get a chance to see these guys come back, and so they can say, if I can work like this, if I can stay on this path, I can get to the same place, because again, it is not about just getting there, it's about going there and really being able to have a contribution, make a contribution and have an impact.

Q.  James, take us through the process, kind of as you get the information, take us through it from a player's ideal.  What did you get back and how did you evaluate it?
JAMES BLACKMON JR.:  Obviously as a player you look forward to seeing the evaluations you get.  It was just positive and negative things for me, but the greatest thing about that was I could see what I needed to get better at, and every day you look forward to being there, but right here, I love it at Indiana, and it's a place where I can just get better every day, and for the long run, I'll be ready for it.
TOM CREAN:  Let me ask him a question because when you go through this with players, and again, we get the feedback and the research, and you get the projection from the undergrad committee, but you get the feedback if you get people that can give it to you, okay, from the NBA teams.  What was your reaction when we started to go through some of that and you started to hear some of the pluses and minuses?  What did that make you do?
JAMES BLACKMON JR.:¬† It made me want to work even harder.¬† Even the guys that Coach Crean talked to are different from the guys that have like the draft boards and stuff like that, so it's great information that you get.¬† I think that it's more‑‑ it's better when you can hear from guys like that.
TOM CREAN:¬† I'll say this.¬† The first time we went through that, and I went‑‑ when I went bit by bit and this team said this, this team said that, the first place he went when we got done with it is back to the gym.¬† What they learned in a hurry is that when you can give them some real feedback, it all depends on how they're going to take it, right, the research, and the NBA is not giving feedback in the sense of making anybody feel good about themselves.¬† They're giving real, live, this is what we see info, if you have the right relationships, and that's what we try to build up over a period of time, and then we never share their names or even give them their names but let them see what it is.¬† So some people can take that and not buy into it, some people can buy into it, and then the rest of them that are in a very small group walk out there and they absolutely want to start doing something about it right away, and that's what I'm proud of him on.¬† If he keeps that attitude, he's going to play for a lot of years after Indiana, a lot of years.

Q.¬† You talked about the things you needed to improve on.¬† What do you see as maybe the main focus of‑‑ I know you want to get better at everything, but what are maybe two or three things you want to focus on?
JAMES BLACKMON JR.:  Some things I want to focus on are like leadership qualities for next year.  Coming in as a sophomore I feel I have to show the young guys a couple of things that I know, just like upperclassmen did for me.  I really want to get a lot stronger over the summer and just make a huge difference in that, even though I already did this year, and also just showing a lot of point guard tricks that I have and keep getting better at that.
TOM CREAN:  The guy is 19 and he's talking about the young guys.  But you are going to be 20 Saturday, aren't you?

Q.  Beyond the feedback you get from the NBA guys, how much does, I guess, Troy's decision to come back and Thomas Bryant's commitment sort of play into the process, too?
JAMES BLACKMON JR.:  That definitely played a huge part of it.  Coming back this year, I'm going to be playing with a great team, and we have a huge chance to do something great this year.  I definitely looked at that, and the teammates that I have here, they push me every day.  I wanted to be a part of that.

Q.  Did you talk to Yogi, too?  Is that part of it?
JAMES BLACKMON JR.:  Yeah, me and Yogi talk a lot.  We talked about both of our decisions, but at the end of the day he's going to make the best decision for him.

Q.  I guess just to sort of piggyback on some of that, and you mention the point guard play, as well.  With I guess I don't want to say a complete team but you've got guys at all positions, there's no sort of obvious holes, how much do you feel like you can develop in that point guard role now that you've got wings, you've got big men inside, there's just a little bit more balance than you had in the lineup this year?
JAMES BLACKMON JR.:  Definitely there's going to be a lot more balance.  It'll be probably a different team than we are this year, and I think that we'll improve on weaknesses that we had last year.  Guys will get better this year, and you're right, I will be able to show a little more point guard skills.
TOM CREAN:¬† Keys for him I think right now, and we talked about this, is he's got to become even more of an initiator.¬† An initiator doesn't mean facilitator.¬† Okay, initiator means initiating what's there offensively, whether it's the shot, whether it's the drive, whether it's the next pass, whether it's cross‑court pass, refusal of pick‑and‑roll, whatever it is, and continuing to understand how to play off what the defense is giving him and be a guy that can not only get up the court in transition without the ball but at the same time be even better with the ball in transition, and I think some of the other things that are huge for him right now, and he's taking steps in this, is that these guys are smart.¬† They continue to watch what that next level is like, and the smart ones really figure out that they've got to keep making those jumps athletically, and as good an athlete as he is, as explosive as he can be, you know, highlight tape dunks, things of that nature, it's that explosiveness and the speed and quickness combined going both ways that are at another level, and I think that's one of the biggest things, and again, not every player gets that.
We work the same way, but not every player has made jumps in everything, and even as good an athlete as Victor was, he went up seven inches on his vertical jump during the time that he was there.  Troy went up five in a year.  It's a continual process, and all that does, the athleticism builds a résumé for the next level, but at the same time, it builds a confidence in their game, and I think that's one of the areas where James is at right now and never looks at any part of his game like well, that's just good enough.
I was really proud of him when we went through a where were you when we got here, where were you at the end of the year little sequence we did.¬† We didn't agree on everything, but numerically where he saw himself improving, and that's big.¬† That's really big, and that's what I'm proud of him as.¬† He never came in here with a I've got to get there as fast as I can, I'm one‑and‑out mindset, which others have, other people that he's played with.¬† Other people that that he has played with, that he has at times dominated, and it's all about mindset.¬† Well, the best mindsets are the ones that have the best longevity because they keep improving constantly, and I'm proud of him for that because it's very, very easy to look at, well, this guy is doing this or that guy is doing that, but you've got to be your own person, and at his age for him to see it that way, that's pretty impressive.¬† That's a maturity, and I think it's going to serve him a long, long time if he keeps that mindset.

Q.  What was the positive feedback?  What did they tell you beyond just what you need to work on, what they liked about you?
JAMES BLACKMON JR.:¬† Just things‑‑ they know I can score the ball.¬† They know‑‑ they see me as a combo guard.¬† Just a lot of‑‑ there were a lot of positives, but‑‑
TOM CREAN:  My favorite word was sniper.  One thought he was a sniper.  I like that.  We'll put that on a tee shirt.  What else?  There were others.
JAMES BLACKMON JR.:¬† Just they see my athleticism, they just want to see how on top‑‑ I really don't remember a lot of them right now off the top.¬† I remember the negatives more than the positives.
TOM CREAN:  There you go.

Q.  What was the biggest negative that they said, okay, for you to get to this level you need to really do this?  What was the biggest thing?
JAMES BLACKMON JR.:  Really they just want to see me defend, the point guard and the shooting guard position really at a high level.

Q.  Just stay in front of your guy?
JAMES BLACKMON JR.:  Yeah, off the ball and on the ball.
TOM CREAN:¬† Yeah, I think it's more than that.¬† I think it's the‑‑ and our whole team is in this sequence, and for our team to make a big jump, he's going to have to make a big jump, Troy is going to have to make a big jump.¬† The young guys are going to have to be able to participate.¬† Hanner is going to have to be able to play without fouling, those types of things.¬† But him being able to really even create more things defensively that turn into offense, and I think as he gets that quickness and that awareness that he's got to have not only on the ball but off the ball, as he continues to develop all the little things that go into being a better offensive player, they'll even make him a better defensive player.¬† And then all of a sudden‑‑ that's where the big jumps usually come, the second year, is that understanding of poise on one end and then that understanding of what's needed defensively.
Guys sometimes are‑‑ the offense can get looked at so close, where was the jump from one year to the next that you lose sight of how much guys got better defensively, and that's going to be one of the big things for him, as well.¬† That'll help turn his offense into an even better place.
But guys that we've had that have continued to grow, when we start to show the before and after tapes, it's as much about what they did defensively as much as what they did offensively.  That's where all that skill training and work and we know we've got to get better there and that's other thing we'll do today after they play.  We'll do our defensive work out of our conditioning where they just continue to do those things without a ball that lead them to being better in those type of situations, and they've got to use their imagination a little bit, but at the same time it's helping them develop those skills that they've got to have with their hips and with their feet and with their head on a swivel and the sprints and the slides and all those different things.

Q.  Is the feedback from GMs, coaches, scouts?  Who is it from?
TOM CREAN:¬† You and I have talked about this before, but I think going all the way back to Marquette days, I think it's‑‑ what I try to do when it comes to a situation like this, we talk to people throughout the year, but when it comes time to getting the feedback, we want to make sure that we're going to the decision makers, so whatever one of those two or three decision makers are the ultimate decision maker as in a team‑‑ I alluded to this yesterday.¬† One time I called one of the teams that's one of the better teams in the NBA.¬† They put the GM, the director of player personnel and player scouting all in the same room because they know we're going to keep it private, right, and that to me is‑‑ that's strong, so that when we sit down with them, and it's helpful to me and to us as it is to them because it helps us even put more in place.¬† It either crystallizes what we already see or it helps us broaden the scope a little bit, and you really want both because if you've got a growth mindset you want to grow as a coach, too, and you really want to keep helping them get to that point.
But to me it's those kind of situations.¬† It's not‑‑ we've got to offset anything that comes out that would be unnamed or sources said or this person's projection, because those aren't necessarily and most times not the decision makers.¬† It's fun to read, but it doesn't have anything really to do with who the decision makers are.¬† I think as long as we always continue to keep that private, and I know other coaches do the same thing, then we'll continue to have that access to find it out.¬† That's what we try and do.

Q.  You had a number of guys that you coached who have really made big jumps, Victor and others.  What do you see him looking like this coming season?
TOM CREAN:¬† Well, I think we covered it.¬† I think it's just becoming better on both ends of the court, being more of an initiator, being able to‑‑ we're working on all those things.¬† It's really tightening up everything, taking everything up another notch athletically, like taking everything up another notch technique‑wise, whether it be how quick he gets up on his shot, whether it be how low he pounds his dribble, whether it be how well he drops his left and right shoulder so that he can push it out with his right or left hand.¬† An even quicker release.¬† Certainly a big thing right now if I had to pinpoint an area that we're really trying to get him to understand is range, a consistent range, and not just a consistent range but how to get to a place on the court, because spacing no matter what‑‑ I said this yesterday.¬† You'd always rather have guys that can create spacing than ‑‑ if you had to make a choice, can they create the spacing or do they understand spacing.¬† They can create the spacing, they're going to be pretty good, then you help them understand spacing.¬† So he's taken a lot of steps in that.¬† I think the other thing is going to being even better not only with the ball and making decisions, all right, and being able to play off the dribble and initiate, but even being better without the ball and finding all the different ways.
We're going to be able to play a lot of different ways next year, a lot of different lineups, a lot of different attack points, which we weren't as able to do this past year.¬† We just weren't.¬† And not to have our best chance to win.¬† And we've got to be able to‑‑ sometimes in this league you've got to be able to match up with them more than they've got to be able to match up with you, and you've got to be able to recognize that in the course of a game, but at the same time not get away from your strengths.¬† There's numerous things, and the good thing is he's willing to work on every one of them, just like these other guys are.

Q.¬† Do you guys just sit back that way on Saturday to see what‑‑
TOM CREAN:¬† I said this yesterday:¬† Nobody is really like that.¬† Yogi is working extremely hard.¬† He's had‑‑ I said this yesterday.¬† He's had two feet in the whole time.¬† There's been not one day where I wondered if he was working the right way or where his mind was at.¬† There's none of that, and his leadership is growing.¬† Whatever happens on that, he's going to make a smart decision, right, and I think, again, all you want to do is you want to make sure you're giving them every bit of factual information that you can give.¬† You give them real insights.¬† You try to take the opinions out of it, including your own, but when you're his coach you'd better have some proper insights, right, so you try to give them as good an insight into that, but you can't give them all the proper information, and just keep coaching him.
Victor walked in yesterday, it's no difference.  Tuesday about recruiting, I said when do you want to start working out.  He says, as soon as you get back.  Here we go.  It never really changes.
Noah walks in last night.¬† It never really changes if you're really trying to build the right family atmosphere, and then you know what's really good atmosphere, when they want to come back when they don't have to, and that's what I love about these guys.¬† I think if you're building every day towards getting to that day and you're making them better every day that they're with you and they have something to take with them when it comes to work ethic and when it comes to working out, and the biggest thing these guys come back with is they're prepared to work on their own, because they have practices, they have walk‑throughs, they have pregames, but they've got a lot of free time, a lot of free time, and are they prepared to go into a gym and work on their own and work on the proper things.
To me, that's a big thing, so you just want to keep putting that investment into that constantly so they know what it takes for them to be successful all the meanwhile trying to make your team better.¬† There's not a lot of‑‑ I mean, it'll be what it'll be.

Q.  When guys like Victor and Noah come back, so I understand, are you working out them individually, or are they incorporating with your teamwork?
TOM CREAN:¬† Well, because they've played, and they'll probably play pickup today, I think, yeah, because they've played here, they jump right in, absolutely.¬† We couldn't bring strangers in.¬† We couldn't bring people that played other places and work them out in the sense if they didn't play‑‑ like we couldn't bring a college player from another program right now to bring him back in and work out with them, but yeah, those guys can come back all the time, absolutely.¬† It's here for them when they want it.¬† They don't lose their access to Cook just because they leave.

Q.  I didn't know if it was a separate program for them.
TOM CREAN:  Sometimes, absolutely, absolutely.  Yeah, there's no question.  We went over that today with Victor, what are we going to tailor make while he's here.  No question.  A lot of times it's the same thing that they need.

Q.  Do you go head to head with him, Victor?
TOM CREAN:  Come on, don't make him answer that.
JAMES BLACKMON JR.:  No, I try to play against him as much as I can, work out with him as much as I can.

Q.  What does that do for you?
JAMES BLACKMON JR.:  Really if you really want to be great, I just try to play against the best, so just learn things from him, like yesterday in his workouts, watching what he does as well as what Coach Crean is talking about, too.  Just learning from a guy who's already there.
TOM CREAN:  What happens when you shoot against your dad?  Who wins that?
JAMES BLACKMON JR.:  Me right now.
TOM CREAN:  Right now?  When did that start?  When did you start winning?  Be honest because he's going to see this somewhere.
JAMES BLACKMON JR.:  Freshman year, sophomore year.
TOM CREAN:¬† He'd better get working on his jumper, huh?¬† Who wins one‑on‑one?
JAMES BLACKMON JR.:  I started beating him sophomore year.
TOM CREAN:  Who wins when it becomes a post game, when it goes right down to that post?
JAMES BLACKMON JR.:  He's got me on that.

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