Column: It’s time for ‘Air Colombia’ to take off

Hanner Mosquera-Perea is going to play in the NBA one day. At least that’s what Indiana coach Tom Crean believes. Coach Crean told the Indianapolis Star in July that if Mosquera-Perea produces consistently, he’ll play professionally at the next level.

There’s no question that the junior forward has elite athleticism and impressive physical attributes.

As a sophomore in high school, Mosquera-Perea jumped and touched a basketball that was suspended 12 feet and two inches off the ground.

He has a wingspan of 7-feet, 5-inches—an extraordinary eight inches greater than his listed height of 6-foot-9.

Mosquera-Perea’s flashes of brilliance during pregame warmups, last year’s Hoosier Hysteria, and high school are well documented on YouTube.

Ridiculous windmill slams. Dunking two balls at once. Monstrous alley-oops in transition. Plays you thought were only possible by video game characters in NBA Street have been captured on film and compiled into Mosquera-Perea’s highlight videos.

However, his in-game achievements in cream and crimson uniform have been relatively sparse.

As a freshman, he played sparingly in a crowded frontcourt that featured starters Cody Zeller and Christian Watford, who are both under contract in the NBA, leaving him to compete with Derek Elston and Jeremy Hollowell for the remaining minutes.

In his first season in Bloomington, he played 5.8 minutes per game, registering more fouls than points.

The arrival of five-star forward Noah Vonleh in 2013 cemented Mosquera-Perea into a backup role last season.

As a sophomore, he averaged 2.8 points and 2.1 rebounds in 7.7 minutes per game. He improved his shooting from his freshman campaign, raising his field goal percentage 19 percent (.385 to .575) and free throw percentage by 31 percent (.412 to .723).

Arguably the best game of his career came in a win against Ohio State on March 2, when he tied a career-high eight points on 3-of-4 shooting, grabbed five rebounds, blocked three shots, and had a steal in 15 minutes of action.

Take a glance at Indiana’s 2014-15 roster and you’ll notice that the Hoosiers’ lack of frontcourt depth jumps off the page.

The Hoosiers have a guard and wing-heavy roster and Mosquera-Perea finds himself at the top of the depth chart at center.

There’s no longer a more experienced or more talented big man left on Indiana’s roster to allow him to come off the bench.

It’s time for “Air Colombia” to take off.

Besides Mosquera-Perea, sophomore Devin Davis is the only Indiana post player with experience battling for rebounds and defending the paint at the Division I level.

A quartet of scholarship freshmen 6-foot-7 or taller will don “Indiana” across their chests this season but none of them appears to be the Hoosiers’ immediate solution in the post.

Max Hoetzel and Tim Priller seem destined to start their college careers as situational three-point specialists who will come off the bench.

Seven-footer Jeremiah April was sidelined during the team’s summer tour in Canada and was sporting a walking boot during Indiana’s football game against Maryland on Sept. 27, bringing some fans to ponder whether his career path is on the same trajectory as former Indiana center Peter Jurkin, who was limited to 18 minutes in his two seasons in Bloomington.

Emmitt Holt, a late addition to the roster and the occupant of Indiana’s last available scholarship for the next two seasons, potentially appears to be—at least on paper—Devin Davis 2.0, an undersized power forward.

To have success this season and return to the NCAA Tournament, Indiana needs Hanner Mosquera-Perea to be “the guy” in its frontcourt. For starters, that means simply staying on the court for extended periods of time and doing so consistently.

In 49 career games played as a Hoosier, Mosquera-Perea has only played double-digit minutes 14 times. His career-high in minutes is 15.

In each of his three years at Indiana, he has been forced to miss games, a detriment to his development as a player.

As freshmen, Mosquera-Perea and Jurkin were suspended by the NCAA for nine games of Indiana’s non-conference schedule receiving improper benefits from their AAU coach, Mark Adams.

Last spring, Mosquera-Perea was arrested for operating a vehicle while intoxicated, and he was suspended as a result.

Then this summer, he never set foot in Canada for the team’s summer trip due to what was described as a “visa-related issue.”

While arguably two of those three events were not within Mosquera-Perea’s control, Indiana can’t afford for him to miss any more time.

In his third year at Indiana, Mosquera-Perea is due for a breakout season. Not the Victor Oladipo kind of breakout season circa 2012-13, when Oladipo elevated himself from a role player to a Naismith College Player of the Year candidate, but one in which he plays at least 20 minutes a night while cleaning up missed shots around the basket, finishing alley-oops authoritatively and establishing himself as a rim protector and rebounding force who can dominate the paint without fouling.

The advanced metrics of say there’s a lot to like about Mosquera-Perea beyond his SportsCenter Top 10 worthy dunks and blocked shots.

Even though he played limited minutes last season and given that most of his shots were around the rim, the 6-foot-9 forward led the team in effective field goal percentage (57.5), true shooting percentage (64.2) and he had the second-best free throw rate (an absurd 117.5 percent, meaning he attempted 47 free throws last season and only 40 field goals).

Indiana has a roster built around outside shooting, floor spacing, and ball movement. Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell, James Blackmon Jr., Troy Williams, and Stanford Robinson will carry the lion’s share of the scoring load, but Mosquera-Perea will still be needed to balance a guard-heavy starting lineup.

Indiana doesn’t need him to be the next Joel Embiid or Anthony Davis, the Hoosiers just need Mosquera-Perea to be on the court as much as possible this season.

Mosquera-Perea has shown his worth in limited minutes over the course of the past two seasons, but it’s time for him to try to fill the shoes of an NBA lottery pick and play starter’s minutes, which means he has to stay out of trouble on and off the court moving forward.

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