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January 7, 2013Hanner Mosquera-Perea, just go play.
Stop worrying about everything and have some fun. That ability to dunk on a 12-foot rim? Set it free, man. Yeah, you're a freshman, and you'll make some mistakes, but we'll coach you through those. Just go play.
In a nutshell, that has been Indiana coach Tom Crean's message to the 6-foot-8 freshman with the 7-foot-4 wingspan as the fifth-ranked Hoosiers (13-1, 1-0 Big Ten) get ready for their second conference game of the season, a 7 p.m. tipoff tonight at Penn State (8-5, 0-1).
"For him right now, it's about totally unleashing that athleticism and using that wingspan," Crean said. "All young guys think too much. ... You can tell he's thinking too much with the dunks he misses. I mean, this guy is going to win many dunk contests in his life like he already has. Just go out and play. There's that comfort level that has to come. You can't force feed it, but you want them to get more comfortable with what they're doing and that way you can keep challenging them to improve. That's where the growth really comes."
Getting Perea into the flow is part of a plan to really start utilizing IU's depth, which has been hampered due to injuries and NCAA issues. Perea and 7-foot freshman Peter Jurkin missed the first nine games due to an NCAA suspension, 6-foot-9 senior forward Derek Elston missed 10 games following knee surgery and 6-foot-7 Jeremy Hollowell had to sit three games with after an eligibility issue.
Everyone is now back, and Crean wants the days of IU going with seven primary players to end.
Perea is averaging 8.6 minutes per game, Elston 8.8 and Jurkin 2.0. Hollowell was averaging 13.3 minutes per game before sitting out. He played just five in IU's 69-65 win at Iowa on New Year's Eve.
Crean said Perea, who was slowed in the fall with a foot injury, and Hollowell's minutes will increase the further IU gets into Big Ten play.
"I don't anticipate it will happen, it will. There's no question about that," Crean said. "It's just that Jeremy missed three games. When a freshman misses a day of practice or a game, it's like they miss a week. When you take someone out of three games, it makes it that much harder, and when your first game back is your opener in the Big Ten, it's hard.
"Experience is a part of it. Speed of the game is a part of it. But just having an understanding of what those games take and the concentration that it takes, they'll grow into that. They've had an excellent week of practice, no question about it."
Perea has shown flashes of his potential. He had 10 rebounds and two blocked shots in 14 minutes against Florida Atlantic. He played 10 minutes or more in three consecutive games but saw only four minutes on the court at Iowa.
In his first three games back, Perea was the primary post backup for 7-foot sophomore Cody Zeller, a role the 6-foot-8 Hollowell filled early in the season.
Perea's biggest offensive struggles seems to be nerves at the moment as he's rushed attempts to catch the ball in the post, admitting on one play he was thinking about what kind of dunk he was going to do before catching the ball.
"It's just tough, coming along as a freshman," Zeller said. "It takes a couple games, even more than that sometimes. He has to get into the flow of what games are like. Especially now that we're in the Big Ten (season), there aren't going to be any easy games.
"We weren't trying to rush him. We weren't expecting too much out of him at the start, but he's been playing well and improving every day in practice."
The nine-game suspension to start the season slowed Perea's progress because since he wasn't going to play, IU had to game-plan with available players.
With a week between games, IU was able to game-plan for Penn State as well as work on skill development and group development in general.
"(Saturday) we went 30 to 40 minutes of just pure working through contact, drives and shots and all of those types of things that really push them to develop their skills. He's done a good job with that," Crean said. "We have been spending a lot of time on pace and how we want to play, and (Saturday) was probably his best day with that. He's improving with that.
"There are so many different things you've got to be prepared for in a game, and you want him to have the confidence that he can score, that he can get the ball and that he can stop his man from scoring. The next step is to see what his communication is like defensively."
Elston is also an important piece of front court depth.
He's played 100 career games, including 55 in the Big Ten, with 13 starts in conference. He was averaging 10 minutes per game after returning following knee surgery before playing just five minutes at Iowa. A career 48 percent shooter, Elston is 1-for-8 from the field so far this year.
Crean said Elston had some setbacks during the week but was very good in practice at the end of the week.
"He just has to go out there and enjoy himself. He can't be a guy who is really vocal with his teammates when he's out, like he was, and then be really quiet when he comes back because then he's thinking, `Well, this might not be going well,' or `I'm not making this shot or that shot.' You just have to play over that," Crean said.
"It's all a part of ongoing dialogue that teammates have to have. Sometimes it's a pat on the back. Sometimes it's being very demanding, but what you are is you are engaged constantly. He doesn't need to spend so much time thinking about what it's going to take to be better and come back, but more importantly control what he can do right now, which are the defensive things, the rebounding things, the spacing things and then just stay consistent with his habits on his shot. I think he'll knock it down here pretty quickly."