KRAVITZ: With talent and Langford at his disposal, the clock now starts on Archie Miller

New Indiana NCAA college basketball coach Archie Miller waves as he walks on to the court of Assembly Hall before he was introduced during a news conference on the court in Bloomington, Ind., Monday, March 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Bob Kravitz

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Now the clock starts ticking on Archie Miller, and that's news he welcomes. Don't get me wrong: He's not in any kind of trouble, short-term or long; it's just to say that after a year of being a caretaker for Tom Crean's leftovers, he is just now starting to build the kind of powerhouse that IU basketball fans desperately want and expect. With an impressive class of incoming freshmen – and let's be happy they didn't give themselves a foolish name, like the ill-fated Movement – Miller has begun the process of making this his team, his program, and now expectations will be quick to follow.

Last year? It was a mulligan, of sorts. And we saw the results, losses to Indiana State and Fort Wayne come immediately to mind. A 16-15 record and no post-season invitations. They played better defense as the season wore on, showed some small signs of improvement that would suggest Miller's philosophies were being heard, but that was about it. It was a lost season, no great surprise during a massive transition.

Now, you can hear it.


Indiana head coach Archie Miller shouts at his players during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Indiana State, Friday, Nov. 10, 2017, in Bloomington, Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Indiana head coach Archie Miller shouts at his players during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Indiana State, Friday, Nov. 10, 2017, in Bloomington, Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

The calendar says the Archie Miller Era began last year. The calendar lies. It begins now, with the five promising freshmen (maybe you've heard of Romeo Langford), with Juwan Morgan returning for his senior year after a breakout junior year, with the addition of St. Mary's transfer Even Fitzner, with big man De'Ron Davis making progress after an injury last year…and on it goes.

If the kids buy in and grow up, if IU can remain relatively healthy, this is a top-five, even top-four team in the Big Ten. An NCAA Tournament team. Shoot, they could even make noise in the Tournament if everybody comes together, no small issue for an immensely young team populated by a bunch of freshmen who are used to being the alpha dogs for their high schools. Can they handle roles? Will they accept roles? Miller wants to play a lot of people this year, something he couldn't really do with last year's thin roster.

"There's going to be some sacrifices this year," Miller said. "Sometimes it isn't easy for them to see until their first game and only five of them take the floor. But there's going to be some serious sacrifices, not just from Romeo but Juwan to every single guy that just wants to contribute. This has to be a team of togetherness this year. It really does."

Whether it comes together, how it comes together, remains an early mystery. But this is not a mystery: IU has the raw material. They've got freshmen who have grown into the bodies of young adults, freshmen who give the Hoosiers a physicality they haven't had in many years. Langford, for example, put on 15 pounds of muscle. I asked Morgan if he gained or lost weight after he said he changed his body this summer, and he said "Both," to which I noted, "Um, you can't gain weight and lose weight at the same time." Suffice to say, he looks good, better than he did last year when he was flummoxing all those low-post opponents with his moves at the basket.

These guys can run and jump, shoot and defend.

A year ago, you were just happy if they could dribble and chew gum at the same time.

"I think the one thing that stands out about the five freshmen, genetically, physically, they're gifted," Miller said at IU fire-alarm-truncated Media Day. "There's size, there's strength, there's athleticism. It's a group that can come in and compete in college physically, which is always a good thing."

Of course, there is an Indiana state law that requires me to talk about Langford at least 10 paragraphs into any IU basketball-related column, so here we go. The kid looks buff. He sounds excited; well, as excited as Romeo can sound given his monotone delivery and clipped answers. He's already talking about having the national title as a goal, and why not? Shoot for the moon. The history of college basketball is rife with stories of precocious freshmen leading their teams to the very top.

Certainly, Miller, whose staff did a remarkable job of playing catch-up and ultimately closing the deal during Langford's recruitment, is already impressed. Not just with Romeo's game, but the ease and fluidity of his game. He never looks like he's in a rush, yet there he is, so smooth, so seemingly effortless, destroying defenders. Did it in high school and he's going to do it in college. For how long? That's a column for another time.

"If he was a football player, he'd be Randy Moss," Miller said Wednesday. "If he was a track athlete, he'd probably be Usain Bolt."

Thus far, the Langford Miller has seen has been the same Langford they knew at New Albany High School. He's just a quiet, normal young man, more grounded than you might expect from a five-star recruit who's been the basketball world's focus since he was a very young basketball prodigy. He's a star and he knows he's a star, but he is unfazed by stardom. If all this pressure was too much to bear, he would have gone to Kansas or Vanderbilt to escape the klieg lights that perpetually shine on this state's homegrown basketball star.

Instead, he stayed home.

Just like Damon Bailey.

"He's been a great teammate," said Morgan, who, along with Langford, will be the twin building blocks of this Hoosiers team. "Just not what is usually portrayed of a five-star going in, being pretty much like a savior of a team or anything like that. He's just a real down-to-earth guy…He's always making that extra pass. We all knows that he can score and he shows that ability, but he is also able to see passes and plays before they even happen. As good as he is, he's only going to get better."

After the mulligan season, Miller has toys to play with at his disposal. He has the incoming freshman. He has transfer Evan Fitzner, the grad transfer with the smooth perimeter game. He has Justin Smith, who developed so nicely last season. He's got Morgan, the second-team all-Big Ten selection. Right now it's a pretty puzzle, and it's one that Miller and his staff have to put together, have to turn into a pretty picture, piece by painstaking piece.

There's that clock…

Tick, tick, tick.

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