Seniors Are The Heart Of Indiana Basketball in 2007-08
March 4, 2008
Bloomington, Indiana - The 2007-08 Indiana University men's basketball team will be forever remembered as a team that never allowed adversity to get in the way of its quest for national prominence and a Big Ten Championship.
The Hoosiers were a preseason top 10 squad for the first time since the 1994-95 season and could end the year nationally ranked for an entire season for the first time since the 1998-99 campaign. The Cream and Crimson knocked off Georgia Tech in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and followed that win with an impressive pasting of Kentucky in Assembly Hall, the first meeting on Branch McCracken Court against the Wildcats since 1990.
Indiana continued to shine at home, setting a school record for wins in Assembly Hall. More impressive was the fact that this edition of the Hoosiers posted their first winning season on the road in the Big Ten since 1993 with wins at Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio State and Northwestern.
With the win over No. 15/14 Purdue and the triumph over No. 10 Michigan State in February, the Hoosiers defeated top-15 teams in back-to-back games for the first time since the 1991-92 season. As the Hoosiers entered the last week of the season, they were challenging for their 21st Big Ten title and should make their 35th NCAA Tournament Appearance.
Much of the Hoosiers success lies at the hands of their senior leadership.
D.J. White emerged as a National Player of the Year candidate and likely Big Ten Player of the Year. His impressive numbers speak for themselves but his presence on and off the court provided a steady hand for an inexperienced team, with seven players making their Division I debuts this season. Lance Stemler was the model of consistency who had a knack for making the big play when it counted most as evidenced by his game-winning three-pointer at Minnesota. Mike White spent the first five games with the
intention to redshirt, but he unselfishly returned to the lineup and his
play sparked the beginnings of a 13-game winning streak. Adam Ahlfeld, with his tireless work ethic and enthusiasm, is as respected and admired as any Hoosier.
Whether on the court or off, these four have served as great ambassadors for a program that prides itself as a team that a whole state can rally around.
"This is D.J. White's team," said former head coach Kelvin Sampson to a group of reporters as the Hoosiers were preparing to take a Labor Day trip to the Bahamas. And so it became. White's journey from McDonald's All-American to Big Ten Freshman of the Year to likely All-American did not come without hardship. The Alabama native burst onto the scene with a banner freshman year averaging 13.3 points. The next year he broke his left foot in an exhibition game and after trying to come back in December he suffered another injury to the same foot and was lost for the season. The man who recruited him, Mike Davis, left to become the head coach at Alabama-Birmingham, and Sampson wanted him to become more of an inside presence.
While trying to regain his confidence, White showed glimpses of greatness, and by the end of his third year with the Hoosiers, he was becoming the dominant inside force the Hoosiers needed to compete with college basketball's elite teams and he averaged 13.8 points in 2006-07 and was a second-team All-Big Ten selection.
As his senior year began, White was the captain of a ship with several new faces and after the first few games he knew the team would need him to assert himself if it was going to live up to its lofty expectations. After feeling his way around the first few games, White established himself as the Big Ten's top big man with 18 points and 14 rebounds against Georgia Tech as the Hoosiers began a 13-game winning streak. When he went for 21 points and 22 rebounds against Michigan he cemented his status as a potential All-American and with his 21-point, 13-rebound effort in a road win at Ohio State, you looked around and realized he was the likely choice for Big Ten Player of the Year honors. As one Buckeye fan behind the Ohio State scorers table said to his wife at the end of the first half, "Honey, that #3 is a man among boys today."
He is on pace to graduate from IU with a degree in general studies with minors in criminal justice and African American studies and was recently recognized as the athletics department's Scholar Athlete of the Month.
For Stemler, his career will show that Indiana was the stabilizing effect the Illinois native needed after he began his career at Bradley for one season and earned NJCAA All-American honors at Southwestern Illinois Community College the next. He made 19 starts as a junior for the Hoosiers and in the first four games of his career, he averaged close to 14 points a game.
He would suffer a concussion that would sideline him for a week and he would play the second half of the season with an injured ankle, but his shooting in the NCAA Tournament against UCLA nearly helped the Hoosiers upset the favored Bruins.
This season, he and D.J. would serve as co-captains, and their example both on the court and in the classroom would prove to be vital to this year's team. After the team suffered its first loss of the season to Xavier, he also stepped up his game against Georgia Tech and with his season-high 15 points helped the Hoosiers start their season-long win streak. He also would have a knack for making key plays in crucial moments. His offensive rebound and putback at home against Ohio State was a Buckeye backbreaker. With the Hoosiers trailing by two in the final minutes he drained a three-pointer at Minnesota to start a 7-0 run and his three-pointer at Iowa gave IU the lead for good in the conference opener.
Stemler will graduate in May with a degree in sports marketing and management and hopes to stay close to the game he loves when his playing days are over.
Mike White is the strong and silent type. After spending the majority of the fall recovering from an ankle injury, he quietly went about his business, even as he watched the first five games from the bench with the intention of sitting out the season as a redshirt.
As a junior, the Lee (Texas) College transfer played in 29 games and started seven. He was a consistent performer all year and had 10 points in his first game with the Hoosiers against Lafayette. He would add eight at UConn to help the Hoosiers post a big win and had 11 at Michigan. He had a season-high 12 against Penn State and would score four in 21 minutes against UCLA.
It seemed logical at the time, the decision to redshirt Mike. He had been slowed in fall workouts with an ankle injury and he would give IU another experienced inside player the following year to compensate for the loss of D.J. White. But as Xavier exposed the Hoosiers' softness inside in an early season game, the coaching staff knew it had an ace up its sleeve to give the Hoosiers a dose of much-needed toughness following a painful loss.
Mike gave the Hoosiers 20 minutes against Georgia Tech and although he scored just two points, it was his four offensive rebounds in the game which provided Indiana with the jolt they needed. He stayed in the starting lineup for most of the next few weeks, but regardless of whether he plays two or 20 minutes, he comes to practice every day to work hard and give his all to the program. Hopefully, the program will have given something back to him as he looks to finish his degree requirements in general studies.
Adam Ahlfeld is the first player you see running on the court when the Hoosiers begin their warm-ups each game. That is a position that captain D.J. White asked the former walk-on to fill for the 2007-08 Indiana team. It's just the kind of thing that you will find with Adam. Whatever you ask of him, he will do.
Adam will graduate with a degree in elementary education. He is the son of team doctor Steve Ahlfeld, who also played for the Hoosiers from 1972-75. Steve was one of the first recruits of then-new head coach Bob Knight and upon Adam's graduation, they will become the first father and son to play four years for Indiana's men's basketball program and graduate with degrees.
"You can look at numbers and awards on a lot of guys, but Adam is as important a person to our program as anyone," said interim head coach Dan Dakich. Every day, Ahlfeld comes to practice and proudly puts on the jersey. It is his responsibility to learn the plays of the opponents. One day he can be Drew Neitzel, the next Jamar Butler. What he does is try and get his teammates better and in turn, he is without a doubt the most respected person in the IU locker room.
With a tremendous sense of humor, he proudly taught ABC's Jenn Sterger how to rip off the candy stripe warm up pants in front of a national television audience. He also serves as the team's representative on the Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC). More importantly, he devotes countless hours in the community reading to school children, helping at a local soup kitchen, or doing whatever is needed to help the program.
While all four have significantly different roles, Indiana fans can be proud that the 2008 Hoosier senior class represents the best in what the expectation is of what an IU basketball player should be.
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