In somewhat unexpected news, earlier today it was announced on Twitter that Pitt transfer Josh Newkirk had committed to Indiana. Newkirk, who was originally a target of the Hoosiers when he was in high school, had just visited the program last week and made the late decision to enroll right before classes start in Bloomington.
The 6'1" North Carolina native will have to sit out per transfer rules, but that shouldn't be a big deal for Newkirk or the Hoosiers as the guard had knee surgery this past spring and is expected to be sidelined for a few more months anyway. When Newkirk becomes eligible for the Hoosiers he'll have two years of eligibility remaining after playing his first two seasons for Pitt. The former Panther had originally intended to transfer closer to home, but once Indiana showed interested he changed his mind.
"When Indiana called, he was like, 'That's like a dream come true right there,'" mentioned Josh's father Reggie Newkirk. He also mentioned that the university plans to slowly get his son up and rolling again since he has to sit out the season anyway. "He's going to sit out anyway, so there's no need to rush him back into it."
The move will add some depth to the Hoosiers backcourt, especially since Yogi Ferrell only has one year of eligibility remaining. With Nick Zeisloft also set to depart after the season, as well as the potential of James Blackmon Jr. possibly declaring early if he has a big year, Indiana helps solidify a potential weakness next year and brings a decent amount of experience to the table. The question is if Tom Crean and company will get the potential Newkirk showed as a freshman or if he'll perform more like he did in his disappointing sophomore season.
In a more rotational role in 2013-14, Newkirk averaged 4.6 points and 1.7 assists per game his freshman season. It wasn't anything mind blowing, but he was also a 43.4% three point shooter that could distribute the ball efficiently when he wasn't shooting from outside. His sophomore season saw an increase in playing time, averaging 20.7 miuntes per game, but his field goal percentage fell from 46.3% to 37.7%, three point percentage dropped over 13% and his turnover rate almost doubled (1.4 compared to 0.8) even though his playing time only increase about three minutes per game. Newkirk struggled heavily, eventually fading out of the rotation as he averaged only 11.8 minutes per game over the last nine games, a number that looks even worse if you drop out a Florida State game that saw him play 32 minutes. The guard couldn't find his shot and is also coming off of a serious knee injury.
Of course there is the potential that was shown in his freshman season and there is a legitimate chance he just couldn't fit into Jamie Dixon's system. Newkirk seems ecstatic to play in Crean's system, with the up-tempo transition style a better fit for the junior. If he can find his shot again he's a viable threat behind the perimeter and his ability to pass the ball means he could be used at either the one or two, depending on what Crean needs next season. Even more beneficial, especially if Blackmon goes pro early, is that his experience will add a veteran leader in the backcourt and keep Indiana away from a potential situation where they are forced to deal with inexperienced guards going through the inevitable growing pains of learning in the Big Ten. At the very least he'll be a more seasoned and ready-to-go option in the backcourt than Grant Gelon, the Hoosiers sole commit for 2016 so far.
Best case scenario for the Hoosiers is that the knee issues helped factor into Newkirk's regression and that becoming healthy, as well as joining a system more fit for his style of play, allows him to blossom into a solid acquisition. Worst-case scenario is Newkirk doesn't regain his form from outside and continues to struggle with turnovers and defense, proving to be a liability for Indiana and can't help solidify the backcourt next season. Of course Newkirk could also land somewhere in between, bringing some experience and being a decent rotational player without having to be the man in the backcourt in Bloomington.
Either way, it was an interesting pick up for the Hoosiers and one that could pan out starting next season for Crean and company. There's some potential shortcomings in Newkirk's game, but there's more than enough skill and potential, as well as need from the Hoosiers, to justify the decision to bring him aboard.