On Nov. 11, 2010, Cody Zeller stood in front of gathering of fans, media and students at the Hatchet House in Washington, Ind., and committed to Indiana.
Tom Crean, two years into his rebuilding job at Indiana had in-state recruiting momentum. Bloomington-raised Jordan Hulls, the 2009 IndyStar Mr. Basketball, was already on board. Two weeks after Zeller committed, Park Tudor junior Yogi Ferrell also pledged to the Hoosiers.
“I don’t blame others for coming into this state,” Crean told IndyStar after Zeller committed, referencing other schools’ interest in the state’s talent. “But we’re trying to do everything we can do to make it our state … like it was.”
It never was that good again for Crean, at least in terms of recruiting in-state talent. After Hulls (2009) and Zeller (2011), he never again successfully recruited a Mr. Basketball winner, although Ferrell was close (runner-up to Gary Harris in 2012).
In-state recruiting was a theme for Crean, especially early in his tenure. At his introductory news conference, he said: “We’re going to recruit this state incredibly hard. I’m not afraid of any challenge, I’m not afraid to go against any school, we’re not afraid to go into any area. I know right now, I’m going to learn that Indiana is our front yard, back yard, side yard, you name it.”
What happened from there? The next five Mr. Basketball winners — Hamilton Southeastern’s Harris (Michigan State), HSE’s Zak Irvin (Michigan), Tech’s Trey Lyles (Kentucky), Homestead’s Caleb Swanigan (Purdue) and Lawrence Central’s Kyle Guy (Virginia) — all went elsewhere. Harris and Lyles are now in the NBA, Irvin is Michigan’s second-leading scorer as a senior, Swanigan is one of the nation’s top players as a sophomore at Purdue and Guy averaged nearly eight points a game as a freshman at Virginia.
The in-state recruiting misses were OK as long as Indiana won. Once the losses started mounting, more and more fans saw a direct correlation.
“This is how I see it,” said Scout.com national recruiting analyst Brian Snow, an Ohio native who has been based in Indiana for several years. “I don’t get a lot of traditions in Indiana and one of them is in-state recruiting. I don’t think it matters where you get players from as long as you win. But the moment you have struggles here and fans see in-state kids playing well elsewhere, it becomes an abnormally large problem. For Indiana fans, it’s important to see Indiana kids represent them.”
• DOYEL: For IU, Tom Crean wasn’t enough
It’s too narrow a view to say Crean ignored in-state recruiting, though the numbers (just two of his 17 recruits from the past four years) might suggest otherwise. His 2012 class — nicknamed “The Movement” by its members — was a bust outside of Ferrell, but was heavy on in-state players. Lawrence Central’s Jeremy Hollowell transferred to Georgia State, Broad Ripple’s Ron Patterson ended up at IUPUI via Syracuse and Hanner Mosquera-Perea (La Lumiere) transferred to East Tennessee State.
There was Cathedral’s Collin Hartman in the 2013 class and Marion’s James Blackmon Jr. in 2014. But around that time, it also became clear there was a disconnect somewhere between Indiana and many of the state’s top players. Lyles, at one time an Indiana commit, reopened his recruitment and committed to Kentucky. Harris, Irvin, Park Tudor’s Trevon Bluiett (Xavier) and Greensburg’s Bryant McIntosh (Northwestern) and others looked elsewhere.
Crean offered scholarships early to in-state prospects — many in their freshman season — but had trouble finishing. Multiple coaches at the grassroots and high school level have said there was a feeling that Crean was more interested in recruiting the East Coast than his backyard.
“Every situation was unique and ultimately I think Tom struggled with the balance of when it was too early to recruit a kid in-state or too late and make them mad,” Snow said. “Recruiting in Indiana starts really early. I think sometimes you can wear a kid out if you offer them in eighth or ninth grade. But you also don’t want to ignore them either.”
One of the biggest misses, and most surprising, came when Guy committed to Virginia. His grandparents had season tickets to IU games and he’d grown up wanting to be a Hoosier. Guy said he “just didn’t click” with Crean like he did with Virginia’s Tony Bennett.
• TIMELINE: A look at Tom Crean’s nine years in Bloomington
The final straw for many fans may have been when North Central’s Kris Wilkes — this year’s Mr. Basketball front-runner — committed to UCLA over Indiana and Illinois. Paul Scruggs, a former Southport guard now at Prolific Prep in California, and Wilkes were longtime Indiana targets. Scruggs opted for Xavier.
One local grassroots coach said Crean didn’t do enough to develop relationships with in-state players in recent years, a sentiment shared by others. It is surprising, considering Crean’s stated goal of securing the state’s top players and the amount of talent Indiana has produced.
When Zeller committed to Indiana in November of 2010, then-ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep told IndyStar: “Tom Crean was hired to padlock the borders to the state. This is an amazing step in doing that. Cody Zeller is the statement guy.”
More than six years later, the perception is the padlock is off. That perception, even if he recruited talented players from elsewhere, was a public relations problem. A growing segment of Indiana fans tired of seeing former Hoosier prep stars showing up at Assembly Hall in an opposing uniform.
Does it take Indiana kids to succeed at Indiana? Not necessarily. But you’d better not lose to them either.
“At the end of the day, winning cures all,” Snow said. “If Tom Crean goes to the Final Four last year we’re not having this conversation. But I’d highly recommend to the next coach to get your share of in-state kids.”
Call Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.
In-state recruiting under Crean
2008 – Devin Dumes (1 in-state recruit of 7 total)
2009 – Jordan Hulls, Derek Elston (2 of 6)
2010 – None (0 of 3)
2011 – Cody Zeller, Austin Etherington (2 of 3)
2012 – Jeremy Hollowell, Yogi Ferrell, Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Ron Patterson (4 of 5)
2013 – Devin Davis, Collin Hartman (2 of 6)
2014 – James Blackmon (1 of 6)
2015 – None (0 for 3)
2016 – Grant Gelon (1 of 5)
2017 – None (0 for 3)
1. Cody Zeller: It’s difficult to state how huge this was at the time for Crean and Indiana. Zeller, the 2011 IndyStar Mr. Basketball, could have gone to North Carolina or Butler (he was close with then-coach Brad Stevens). Unlike his brothers (Luke to Notre Dame and Tyler to North Carolina), the 6-10 Zeller chose IU. It signaled a new day.
2. Yogi Ferrell: It was no secret in recruiting circles that Ferrell was likely to follow Zeller to Bloomington if Cody took the plunge. Just two weeks following Zeller’s commitment, Ferrell committed to give Crean his future point guard. Zeller and Ferrell played one season together, rising to No. 1 nationally and winning the Big Ten in 2013.
3. Jordan Hulls: Hulls was overlooked as a prospect despite winning Mr. Basketball in 2009 out of Bloomington South. But Hulls helped lead the revival of the program under Crean, averaging 9.8 points and 2.7 assists a game over his four-year career.
1. Kris Wilkes: While it remains uncertain what type of impact the North Central star will have next year at UCLA, you have to wonder if Crean would still be around if he had the 6-7 Wilkes on board. Indiana was in his final three, along with UCLA and Illinois.
2. Kyle Guy: Same idea here. If Guy was a freshman at Indiana right now, things might look a little different. Instead he’s at Virginia. This recruiting miss sounded some alarm bells at the time.
3. Gary Harris/Trey Lyles/Trevon Bluiett/Kellen Dunham/Bryant McIntosh: Yeah, a lot to get through here. Michigan State’s Tom Izzo developed a strong relationship with Harris very early in the process and won out. Lyles committed to Indiana as a freshman but those early commitments rarely last. It wasn’t a surprise he ended up at Kentucky. Crean offered Bluiett when he was a freshman at Park Tudor but, for some reason, that possibility never heated up. Bluiett committed to UCLA at one point before ending up at Xavier. Dunham was interesting due to the timing. Indiana was going to track him in July before his junior year but he jumped on a Butler offer and never looked back. Greensburg’s McIntosh was originally committed to Indiana State, but opened things up and had a huge summer. The point guard picked Northwestern over Purdue and helped the Wildcats to their first NCAA tournament this year.
* I didn’t include some other in-state misses like Caleb Swanigan, Deshaun Thomas and others who weren’t in the recruiting mix late in the process.