Yogi Ferrell entered Indiana as the McDonald’s All-American centerpiece of a five-man, all-Indiana recruiting class that was ranked No. 5 in the country. Coming on the heels of a surprise Sweet 16 appearance, this was supposed to be the class that helped bring the Hoosiers back to glory.
An ultra-talented point guard who can score or distribute, Yogi was viewed by some Indiana fans as the next Isiah Thomas. But disappointing results, ugly off-the-court incidents and roster turnover became the trend at Indiana the last few years. After Ferrell spurned the NBA to return for his senior season, he became the only player still at Indiana from the class that was supposed to define the Tom Crean era.
With Crean on the hot seat and a proud Indiana program suffering a Final Four drought since 2002, the pressure is on for a talented Hoosier team to make a big move this season. As the senior point guard, Ferrell knows a lot of that burden falls on him.
“We’re just trying to play better and do what we’re supposed to do and show people what we’re capable of,” Ferrell told NBCSports.com.
“We want to rep our state and put on for the state of Indiana.”
Indiana has seen a lot of new faces during Ferrell’s three seasons on campus. He’s the only senior on the Hoosiers who didn’t transfer into the program.
After some early difficulties during a hellacious rebuild, Crean successfully recruited pieces like Jordan Hulls, Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller. The Hoosiers seemed to be on the right track after knocking off No. 1 Kentucky during the 2011-12 regular season and making a surprising run to the Sweet 16. Ferrell and his 2012 classmates were lauded as the group that would put Indiana over the hump. Sweet 16 appearances were supposed to be the baseline by which Indiana measured success.
Ferrell and three other members of the 2012 class, small forward Jeremy Hollowell, forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea — both four-star prospects — and center Peter Jurkin were grassroots teammates together with Indiana Elite. At every tournament Indiana Elite played in, flocks of Indiana fans would follow, hoping to see the bright future of Hoosier basketball as four commitments shared the floor in the same starting lineup.
Things began to unravel before that 2012 group could even make it to Bloomington.
Shooting guard Ron Patterson, the fifth member of the class, went to prep school instead of Indiana and eventually ended up at Syracuse. That would be the first of many dominoes to fall around Ferrell the next few years.
Indiana was at one point the No. 1 team in the country and made the Sweet 16 in Ferrell’s freshman season, but Oladipo and Zeller left early for the NBA.
Joining the starting lineup and taking the reigns as a team leader, Ferrell and his teammates endured a disappointing 2013-14 season that saw the Hoosiers barely finish above .500.
More members of the 2012 class fled Bloomington. Hollowell transferred to Georgia State after the season and Jurkin soon followed him out the door.
The exodus at Indiana continued the next spring as Mosquera-Perea was dismissed from the program in May along with sophomore Devin Davis. The Hoosiers — again — found themselves with more roster turnover and Ferrell’s 2012 classmates were all gone.
MORE: Previewing the Big Ten
Through it all, Ferrell has tried to remain focused and be a positive influence in the locker room. He expected to be a senior surrounded by familiar faces from that celebrated recruiting class, but plans changed and he had to adapt to being a different type of leader.
“We’re growing and trying to get our new guys to know our system,” Ferrell said. “The season is right around the corner. We’ve had guys come in and out and the personnel has changed. But I have to help get them ready. I have to be a leader on and off the court.”
Indiana has seen plenty of off-the-court incidents during Ferrell’s tenure with the team and he hasn’t been immune to incident himself. After that disappointing sophomore season, Ferrell was issued a citation with former teammate Stanford Robinson and charged with minor consumption of an alcoholic beverage and possession of a false identification.
Ending up in the headlines for a drinking ticket could have sent Ferrell in a downward spiral and sent him searching for a new home like many of his former teammates. Instead, Ferrell overcame the off-the-court chaos and continued to mature both on and off the court.
“I wouldn’t trade Yogi for any player in the country,” Crean said at Big Ten media day.
A glimmer of hope emerged for Indiana’s future last season as Ferrell became more efficient as a shooter, started setting up teammates for more assists and showed more consistency on the defensive end. The point guard’s breakout season, coupled with new reinforcements, helped lead the Hoosiers back to the NCAA tournament after the disappointing sophomore year with no postseason.
Plenty of perimeter firepower returns around Ferrell this season with James Blackmon Jr., Robert Johnson and Troy Williams all coming back. With McDonald’s All-American big man Thomas Bryant entering the starting lineup in the middle, the Hoosiers have top-25 talent — more than enough to make a run in Ferrell’s final season. Crean is sitting squarely on the hot seat and this will be the season at Indiana that could define both the veteran head coach and his senior point guard.
Both Crean and Ferrell have underperformed to the lofty expectations of Indiana fans, but a huge year would erase some of the bad memories.
There is already a noticeable difference in the Hoosiers’ roster this season with the addition of Bryant and former Michigan big man Max Bielfeldt, a graduate transfer senior who should give Indiana more interior depth.
“It’s been nice adding big men who can help us right away,” Ferrell said. “Max being a veteran and Thomas being as talented as he is, those are some high-level guys.”
“We’ve improved on the defensive end. We can get into the ball more [as perimeter defenders] since we have the rim protected.”
As his Indiana career currently stands, Ferrell has put up good numbers and played on some fun teams, but he doesn’t have many important wins to show for it. The only time he’s won a NCAA tournament game was in 2013 during his freshman year when others like Zeller and Oladipo carried the team.
Things didn’t go according to plan for Ferrell during his rocky journey at Indiana, and in a cruel twist of fate, he’s actually come to define the Crean era at Indiana: high expectations, disappointing finishes and off-the-court issues.
But Yogi’s senior year with a talented Indiana team gives him a chance to write his own final chapter. As the driving engine of a Big Ten contender, he gets one more chance to change the way he’ll be remembered in Bloomington.