Cupps in larger-than-expected role for Indiana Hoosiers

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

COLUMBUS — A former Ohio Mr. Basketball serving as the current Indiana point guard has created a learning experience for father and son this winter.

“It’s been interesting,” said Brook Cupps, the Centerville High School coach whose son, Gabe, is a true freshman at Indiana. “It’s been really cool to see him be able to kind of go on and do what he had always dreamed about doing.”

Father and son, as one might expect, have spent many hours together in gyms over the years, usually with seats not far from each other.

Like usual, Brook has not missed one of his son’s games this season, but he has a different perspective compared to previous years. Instead of patrolling the sideline while Gabe runs his offense, the veteran coach is a row or two back in the stands watching him play for Indiana’s Mike Woodson, a former NBA coach and legendary Hoosiers player for Bob Knight.

“Definitely a different role for me and a different dynamic for us that we’re trying to figure out, but it’s been fun,” Brook said Tuesday night before Indiana play at Ohio State.

Woodson returned sixth-year senior Xavier johnson this season, meaning the younger Cupps figured to come off the bench in a supporting role all year.

But the veteran point guard has already missed a total of nine games in two different stints because of injury, and Woodson would only say he is “out indefinitely” after the Hoosiers rallied to beat the Buckeyes 76-73.

That meant in his first trip back to his home state as a college basketball player, Cupps was in the starting lineup, but his impact on the game was minimal.

Battling foul trouble for much of the night, he ended up scoring two points, handing out two assists and being credited with one rebound and one steal in 26 turnover-free minutes.

“I think he was a little farther along than they expected him to be (when he enrolled last summer), and then he got thrust into things when Xavier got hurt, so he’s just trying to figure it all out,” Brook Cupps said before the game. “He’s trying to figure out how to run the offense at this level and still try to be aggressive and score while not forcing shots. All the stuff that goes with being a point guard which is different than just going out and playing.”

The younger Cupps is averaging 22 minutes in 23 games with 12 starts. He has 32 assists, 22 turnovers and 16 steals while scoring 2.7 points per game and shooting 39% from the floor and 39% from the 3-point line.

He has one double-figure scoring game — 11 points against Auburn on Dec. 9 — and found himself in the spotlight Jan. 30 when his clutch 3-pointer with 1:26 left spurred the Hoosiers to a 74-68 win over Iowa.

“Gabe is giving us everything that I thought he would give us,” Woodson told the Hoosiers’ team website. “He was coached by his dad, who did a hell of a job with that young man. He’s been steady because he’s been taught the right way. Some get it and some don’t. He got it. That’s why he doesn’t look out of place.”

Surviving in the physical Big Ten requires a physical adjustment that likely will take time, but his father said he believes Gabe’s game is well-suited for this level — with some evolution.

“It’s gonna be interesting,” Cupps said. “I think he’s gonna have to get a lot more aggressive. Right now he’s trying to facilitate and run the offense, which I think is the main expectation for him, but as his career develops, there’s already been times they’re asking him to be more aggressive and he’s got to try to figure out.”

Gabe averaged 15.2 points and 4.9 assists when the Elks won the Division I state championship in 2021.

His scoring went down a point, but he added almost two assists per game as a junior while shooting 50 percent from the floor and 44 percent from 3-point range on his way to Mr. Ohio Basketball honors in 2022. then tallied 15.4 points and 6.2 assists while shooting 49.5 percent and 39.5 percent as a senior.

“He had a really good handle on that in high school where he would run the offense and then go get a bucket when we needed one and be aggressive when we needed him to and then go back off to include everybody else,” Brook said. “He’s just going to have to figure that out at this level. I think that is something he’ll get better at.”

Brook said he has not missed one of his son’s games since late in elementary school, though he acknowledged that could be in jeopardy depending on when the Elks play their tournament games later this month.

No matter what, the learning will continue for both.

“I think just me being here is a blessing,” Gabe Cupps told reporters in Bloomington after his big shot against Iowa. “So I’m here to work, here to get better. And I think that allows me to trust myself and also for my teammates to trust me.

“Just really thankful for the opportunity and thankful for these guys.”

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