Wilmont Takes Leadership Role for 06-07
Oct. 2, 2006
There's a new leader for the Indiana men's basketball team - a man with a burning desire to win and with the power to show the young players the way things are in major college basketball.
And as head coach Kelvin Sampson and his staff prepare for their first year with the Hoosiers, he is the voice of experience - both on and off the court - for a young but talented Indiana team.
So for Rod Wilmont, the only fifth-year senior on a Hoosier squad high on talent, but low on experience and adjusting to a new coach and new system, the job is clear. He is a crucial piece for the team, not just grabbing rebounds in traffic or draining a jump shot, but as the voice of experience in college basketball and the Big Ten.
"I'm going to try and overexaggerate, because I've been here longer than them," Wilmont said of his role as a leader. "I'm just trying to tell them what I learned from Kyle Hornsby, Tom Coverdale - that's how long I've been here. I just try to tell the young guys what they told me when I came in. I just try to tell them before Coach tells them so it won't be new to them."
The Miramar, Fla., native played in 30 contests a year ago, and has played in 85 contests throughout his career. The experience he has drawn from those contests, especially the ones on the road, is something that Wilmont sees as crucial knowledge to his younger teammates as they make the trek to unfriendly environments at Duke, Kentucky, Connecticut and throughout the Big Ten this season.
"I can talk to them about the different environments in the Big Ten, just things like that," Wilmont said. "Earl [Calloway], D.J. [White], [A.J.] Ratliff and I have been through a lot with this team. Coach Sampson wants us to be leaders, especially to help the freshmen to let them know how things go.
"They've never played in an environment that they're about to get into in a few weeks, especially on the road," Wilmont continued. "I keep drilling the road in to them because it's a lot different. I don't know how many times I've said it, especially when we're out there and it's getting tough, that's exactly how it is when you're on the road. Unless you shoot 80, 90 or 100 percent you're not going to blow a team out on the road."
Along with a new coaching staff, the Hoosiers have a strong group of newcomers with two true freshmen - Armon Bassett and Xavier Keeling - and a pair of junior college transfers - Lance Stemler and Mike White. Integrating new players into Sampson's system and the Indiana way of life could be a tough task, but Wilmont and his fellow returners have taken on the challenge, and so far the results have been strong.
"Mike [White] should fit right in, especially when conference play starts," Wilmont said. "His physical ability - he's big - and he's going to help us a lot doing the dirty work. Lance can pass and he can shoot the ball really well. Armon is tough, he's going to help us a lot at the point guard position, he's going to come in when Earl gets a breather.
"As a leader on this team," Wilmont continued, "I've been telling the freshmen on the team how it is - every game in this conference is close. We're further now than we were last year at this time. Armon, Xavier, Mike and Lance fit right in to Coach's system, so we haven't had any problem building chemistry."
Chemistry is one thing that Sampson has stressed since he arrived in Bloomington, emphasizing that the team is more important than the individual on his squads. But no matter how many times Sampson tells his players that, if the leaders don't respect it and send that energy down to the younger players, the team chemistry falters.
"Coach keeps drilling in our heads as far as the team takes us is as far as we go," Wilmont said. "Everybody has their role, the part they play on the team, from D.J., Earl, Ratliff and me all the way down, everybody has a role. All that comes together as a team, and the coaches want everybody to know that this isn't a one-man show, it's a team effort."
Wimont is quick to point out that chemistry on the court can't reach its full potential unless it is matched by camaraderie off the court. So the team doesn't just practice together, they play together as well, in every aspect of their free time.
"We've been hanging out at each others' houses and stuff like that," he said. "Sunday mornings, we sometimes go golfing. Stuff like that helps you in the long run especially when it comes down to a hard game on the road in a tough environment - everybody comes together. Coach Sampson teaches us to do everything together as a team."
In addition to demanding that his players develop chemistry on and off the court, Sampson demands dedication in the weight room as well. The Hoosiers face a far more rigorous training regimen this year.
"I arrive at the gym by 5:30 a.m. and by 6 a.m. we start the conditioning," Wilmont said. "It's a hard 30-minute workout and then we get to the gym, and that's almost like conditioning. Everybody is getting used to it, we have been doing it for a while."
And Sampson doesn't just demand that his players be working hard on their conditioning, he makes the same commitment, being present for individual and team workouts, no matter what time they take place.
"Individual workouts have been great," Wilmont said. "Coach Sampson is a great teacher. The first thing we worked on was our defense, and that's the way that we are going to score most of our points this year, on the defensive end. He is trying to drill his system into us and have us become a strong group together."
Indiana won six of its last eight games and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2006. But with a new leader, both on the sidelines and on the court, the Hoosier faithful and the Hoosier team have far loftier goals for the 2006-07 season. And with a leader like Sampson, who has seen tremendous success throughout his career, players and fans alike have plenty of reasons to cheer.
"He brings so much energy," Wilmont said. "You can feel the energy he brings when he's out there. It's like he's out there on the court playing with us - that's how badly he wants it. That gets me even more fired up and makes me play even harder."
If the results match the effort and excitement this season, Indiana basketball is in store for a whale of a season in 2006-07.
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