He looks like he should be the ball boy or maybe one of the young kids who waits eagerly behind the basket and then hops out to mop the floor during timeouts.
“When he first came here I called him Little Michael Jackson,” said Indiana’s 6-foot-5 guard Victor Oladipo. “But really he’s nothing like that. … There’s nothing little about him … or his game.”
Everybody thought top-seeded Indiana would use its size advantage to overwhelm 16th-seeded James Madison in its NCAA tournament opener Friday afternoon at UD Arena. Instead, the smallest guy on the court — Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell, the fresh-faced, teenage point guard of the Hoosiers — was the guy who delivered the knockout blow to the Dukes right after the opening tip.
The 6-foot freshman — and that height is probably inflated — put on the most impressive five-minute display so far in this tournament. He scored the first nine points and 14 of IU’s first 16. By then James Madison was down 16-3 and the Dukes never recovered in what would be an easy 82-63 Hoosier victory.
“He was awesome,” James Madison coach Matt Brady said of the 19-year-old Ferrell. “We knew how fast he was. We knew he’s really talented. We knew he’s the guy who makes them go. But again, like with the rest of their team, until you are on the court with them, you don’t REALLY know. My guys couldn’t really catch up to the speed of the game.”
Andre Nation, the Dukes’ freshman guard who was impressive himself with 24 points, agreed with his coach: “They ran faster than any team we ever played. They threw the first punch and they threw another punch and they kept throwing them and we weren’t throwing back.”
Ferrell finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
“The way he went off like he did at the start was fun to watch,” said Indiana’s backup big man, the tattooed Derek Elston. “I don’t know about junior-high sized, but yeah he’s small. But the dude is also quick as lightning. He really put his mark on this game.”
Ferrell has been an over-sized presence since grammar school.
As skewered as it sounds, a scouting publication called The Hoop Scoop once rated him the No. 1 fourth-grade basketball talent in the nation. That prompted a front-page story in The Indianapolis Star.
As heady as that is, it could easily derail a youngster, and Ferrell’s father recognized that and pulled him out of AAU ball during his seventh- and eighth-grade years. He wanted his boy to get back to just being a regular kid.
At Park Tudor High School in Indianapolis, Ferrell fell under the tutorial wing of former Wright State coach Ed Schilling, who took over the prep duties at the Class 2A school when Yogi was a sophomore.
Schilling mentored the young prodigy in all aspects of the game and their union produced instant success. Park Tudor made it to the state title game when Ferrell was a sophomore and then won the state crown the next two years.
“Ed Schilling is my longtime friend,” Ferrell said after Friday’s game. “He taught me to be coachable, to be a winner and to just go out there and never take a possession off. And everything he taught me I’m using right now.”
Ferrell said the only other time he’s started a game like he did Friday was the first year he played for Schilling: “One time I scored the first 16 points of a game. But today, this was different. It was my first NCAA tournament game and I just wanted to make sure I did whatever it took to make my team win.
“I had a lot of energy before the game, but I wasn’t nervous or anything. I know I’m small and I know they always say little guys can’t do anything, but I was out there to prove they were wrong. And I think I did a pretty good job of that.”