(Contributor: Mike Pudlow)
Derek Elston is a basketball player from Tipton, Indiana who played for Indiana University and is currently the IU basketball Director of Player Development. Elston played for the Hoosiers between 2009 and 2013. He was a major contributor to turning around the program under Tom Crean. After only winning 10 and 12 games his first two seasons, he finished his career with 27 and 29-win campaigns. Despite an injury-marred career, he scored 498 points and was a fan favorite for his gritty play and rebounding prowess. As a senior, he received the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award. Elston then went on to play professional basketball in Malta, Portugal, and the United Kingdom. In 2015, Elston was named Indiana Basketball’s Director of Player Development.
- Name: Derek Elston
- Nickname: “The Tipton Tornado”
- Position: Forward
- Nationality: USA
- Age: 29 years old
- Birthday: June 27, 1990
- Hometown: Tipton, Indiana
- High School: Tipton High School
- Height: 6’9″ (206 cm)
- Weight: 216 lb (97 kg)
- Seasons: 4 (2009-2010, 2010-2011, 2011-2012, 2012-2013)
- Jersey: #32
- NBA Draft: 2013 / Undrafted
- Professional Career: Floriana (Malta; 2013-2014) / Illiabum (Portugal; 2015) / Plymouth University Raiders (UK; 2015)
- Post-Playing Career: Director of Player Development for Indiana Men’s Basketball Program
Player Accolades and Awards
- 2013 Academic All-Big Ten
- 2013 Big Ten Sportsmanship Award
Derek Elston’s High School Career
Elston was an impact player for Tipton High School as soon as he stepped on the court. As a freshman, he played in 20 varsity games and had an 18 point, 10 rebound performance in Tipton’s loss to Jay County in sectionals.
As a sophomore, he became a starter and quickly began catching the eyes of college recruiters. Elston averaged 14.9 points and 12.0 rebounds during that season, leading the team in both categories.
Elston was named First-Team All-State as a senior, and led Tipton High School basketball to a final record of 23-3. He averaged 19.7 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 2.8 assists. Elston played in the Indiana/Kentucky game with future Hoosier teammate and roommate, Jordan Hulls.
Derek Elston’s Commitment to Indiana University
Elston committed to Indiana as a sophomore in September of 2007, nearly two years before he would walk onto the court in a Hoosier uniform. In the 2009 class, Elston was considered the #133 recruit in the nation, the 28th ranked small forward in his class, and third ranked prospect in the state of Indiana, according to 247Sports Composite rankings. At the time of his early commitment, he had an offer from Purdue and had interest from Illinois, Butler, and North Carolina (his father’s alma mater).
After committing, Elston told the Kokomo Tribune, “I talked to [North Carolina coaches] some this summer and they said they wanted to watch me a little more… And even though I wanted to follow my dad’s footsteps, it was more important to me to play somewhere close enough where my parents could watch.”
“I didn’t want to drag it out,” said Elston. “[Indiana] is the place for me and I didn’t see any reason to lead other coaches on. I want to be a Hoosier.”
Kelvin Sampson recruited Elston and played a large part in his decision to commit.
Elston stated that Sampson stressed that the program needed him. “Other coaches told me that, but I just really believed him. And besides that, Indiana [University] basketball is the main thing around here and I want to be part of that,” noted Elston in 2007.
Yet, even after Sampson was fired, Elston remained loyal to the Hoosiers.
In fact, Elston’s father Darrell stated, “I told him, ‘you know what, if you don’t want to go to IU, you don’t know anything about Tom Crean, you don’t want to go, if you want, I’ll make some calls and we can go someplace else.” But, Derek replied, “No, dad, I’m committed to IU.”
Even as a sophomore in high school, Elston was already talking about his love for doing the dirty work on the court, a trait that would later become a staple of his game.
“They recruited me as a scorer and rebounder, from mostly as a rebounder. If I never took another shot again, I’d be happy. Anytime I see where a guy in one of my games has eight or nine rebounds, it makes me mad knowing I could have had some of those,” proclaimed Elston.
Derek Elston’s Seasons with the Hoosiers
10-21 (4-14 Big Ten)
12-20 (3-15 Big Ten)
27-9 (11-7 Big Ten)
🏅 NCAA Sweet Sixteen
29-7 (14-4 Big Ten)
🏅 NCAA Sweet Sixteen
Indiana University Career Statistics
Elston’s Indiana University Career
As part of the 2009 freshman class, Elston arrived in Bloomington alongside Christian Watford, Maurice Creek, Jordan Hulls, and Bobby Capobianco.
Elston hit campus during the second year of Tom Crean’s reign. The team was still in the aftermath of the Sampson scandal and the rebuilding of the program. As a result, because of the team’s depleted roster, Elston was able to gain valuable minutes in his first year and was instantly able to make a much-needed contribution to the squad. He played in 31 games as a freshman, starting in 7 games. Averaging 15 minutes per game, Elston posted 5.8 points a game in his freshman campaign and was the team’s third leading rebounder at 4.1 per game. Unfortunately, that season, the Hoosiers would only win 10 games total and lost in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.
Still, despite the team’s struggles, Elston never wavered from his belief that he could be a part of turning around the program. In fact, his father Darrell said he asked him if he wanted to consider another program. However, according to his father, Elston replied that he wasn’t even considering a change and that he was fully committed to the Indiana program.
As a sophomore, the team continued to struggle, finishing with a 12-20 record. Elston, however, remained a steadying force. Once again, he appeared in 31 games (starting 10) and averaged 4.9 points and 3.7 rebounds in 15.5 minutes per appearance. Elston posted his best field-goal percentage of his career that season, shooting 56.5% from the field. During this 2010-2011 season, Indiana’s bright future was on the horizon. The team brought in freshman Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey to the mix with Elston’s impressive sophomore class, alongside a mix of savvy veterans like Verdell Jones, Jeremiah Rivers, Matt Roth, and Tom Pricthard. The season laid the building blocks for the success that was soon to come.
In Elston’s junior season, Indiana made a major leap forward. The team finished 27-9 (11-7 in conference play) and ended up 5th in the Big Ten. Winning 15 games more than the previous season, Indiana was a #4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. During March Madness, the Hoosiers defeated #13 New Mexico State and #12 VCU, before ultimately falling to #1 Kentucky.
On a personal level, Elston remained a constant presence in the paint and on the glass. He appeared in 34 games, averaging 4.2 points and 2.4 rebounds per game. He also had his best three point shooting year of his college career, knocking down 55.2% from beyond the arc.
As a senior, Elston missed 10 games due to knee surgery but still appeared in 19 games coming off the bench. Indiana continued its historic program turnaround with another great season. The Hoosiers finished 29-7 (14-4 in conference play) and where a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The team beat #16 James Madison and #9 Temple before ultimately losing to #4 Syracuse.
Elston is widely beloved by fans for his hard-nosed approach and determination to help with her team win anyway possible. Likewise, Elston was a favorite among his teammates for his leadership and mentorship.
CBS broadcaster Jim Nantz recognized Elston, Watford, and Hulls for their lasting legacy in turning around the IU program, labeling them as the “Indelibles.”
Elston’s Professional Career
After graduating with a Masters in Sports Administration, Elston began his professional career in Malta (an island in the Mediterranean south of Italy) for Floriana Francesco Fenech Greens in the Maltese Powerade League.
“The first thing that went through my mind was relief in being able to keep playing basketball and to live a dream of playing basketball professionally,” said Elston at the time. “I couldn’t stop smiling after I signed that contract.”
He started his professional career strong, averaging 26.1 points and 11.6 rebounds per game.
Elston then played for Illiabum in Portugal, where he posted 13.2 points and 4.8 rebounds. Additionally, he played 10 games for the Plymouth University Raiders in the UK, averaging 10.6 points and 6.6 rebounds.
Elston Becomes Director of Player Development
In 2015. Elston was named Indiana University basketball’s Director of Player Development. The hiring came after a difficult time in the program when several players had legal run-ins and a few players were even kicked off the team. Elston, who was widely regarded during his time playing for his mentorship and leadership skills, was the perfect fit to come in and assist the program.
Elston’s responsibilities include administrative duties, mentoring, life skills, and player support services. Since Derek Elston’s hiring into the position, the Hoosiers have not had any major off-the-floor negative incidents with the players.
Even as a player, Elston seemed to be destined for this role. There are countless stories of him advising his younger teammates and going the extra mile to make sure they felt comfortable.
One such story involves then-freshman Peter Jurkin. At the time, the South Sudan native Jurkin was having trouble catching the ball. Elston, a senior on the team, had an idea. So, he decided to pull out his baseball glove and borrow another one from Jordan Hulls to play catch with Jurkin. While Jurkin had never touched a baseball in his life, Elston thought it might be a nice change of pace and another way for Jurkin to improve his hand eye coordination.
With an abundance of similar stories, it’s no wonder why Tom Crean felt he was the perfect man for the position.