When the Indiana Hoosiers had their 2015 recruiting class set, the hype completely surrounded Thomas Bryant. And why him? Bryant was the next in line of McDonald's All-Americans brought in by Tom Crean, and the big man raising expectations to Indiana being a borderline top-10 team all season.
O.G. Anunoby and Juwan Morgan took a back seat, having a blanket, "they'll be good, but need to develop over the next couple of years" statement laid over them. Early previews of the team before last summer had them playing sparing minutes, at best.
Things quickly changed during the summer months, with Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Devin Davis being kicked off the team for smoking in their dorm room. Then, during welcome week at IU, Emmitt Holt was caught with Perea and Bryant in parked car with bottles of alcohol on their persons. Holt was shown the door as well, evaporating the Hoosiers' perceived and desperately needed depth in the front-court.
Holt had been a surprise emerging player during the 2015 season, as someone who was not expected at the outset to be a large contributor. Anunoby has seized that role this season, though his stable role in the Indiana lineup took nearly half the season to secure.
Throughout the non-conference schedule, Anunoby saw significant minutes against cupcakes in complete blowouts. The freshman out of Jefferson CIty, MO played a grand total of 6 minutes in the three games at the Maui Invitational, and just 7 minutes in IU's match-ups with Duke and Notre Dame, scoring a total of 4 points in the Hoosiers' five marquee non-conference games.
The turn in productivity came when James Blackmon Jr. went down for the season with a knee injury. Indiana needed someone to step up and fill the large gap in minutes left by Blackmon's absence. While it has been replacement by committee, Anunoby has thrived in the open opportunity to earn more minutes.
Anunoby's coming out party, at least among Hoosier fans came against the Wisconsin Badgers on January 5th. Anunoby knocked down all three of his 3-point attempts, finishing with 11 points, which matched his career high set the previous game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The game marked four straight that Anunoby went perfect from beyond the arch.
Since the turn of the calendar, Anunoby has drawn the tough match-ups on defense. At times O.G. will go from guarding the opposing point guard to guarding the center on the low block on simultaneous possessions.
Anunoby running the point on defense has, of course, led to immediate comparisons to Victor Oladipo. Because, apparently, if a guy in an Indiana uniform shows somewhat unexpected, and rapid growth, with tenacity on the defensive end, he must be the next Victor Oladipo.
For some reason, IU players are now being pigeon-holed, when showing any sign of advanced skill, to being an Oladipo clone. Remember, people for the past two years have tried to draw parallels to Troy Williams and Oladipo. But does anyone seriously watch Williams or Anunoby and think that they have the same skill-set as a 6-foot-4-inch shooting guard?
I digress. Anunoby has played his most productive ball in tournament time. He and Bryant are playing with confidence in the NCAA Tournament that you simply do not expect from freshmen, except maybe the blue chips that the likes of Kentucky bring in or the likes that waste their one year of college basketball with LSU. Indiana has Thomas Bryant winking and smiling at teammates right before pivotal free throws, and Anunoby casually dropping 360 fastbreak dunks.
Anunoby will be a key in slowing down the North Carolina Tar Heels' wing play. The Hoosiers are just one win away from the gates flying open and the path being laid out clearly towards a championship game run.
I've been told Anunoby's favorite artist is Young Thug, who dropped (read as released) his new album today. I don't really listen to Young Thug, but was shown a photo that basically confirms a collaboration with Elton John. A reliable Twitter friend has informed me that a Young Thug cover of "Bennie And The Jets" would be the greatest thing to happen to music.
Admittedly, this isn't really that relevant other than we know what O.G. will be listening to on the bus ride to the arena, but when an article lends itself to closing with Young Thug talk, you've got to take it.