When you live in a recruiting bubble, it’s all about recruiting.
And most of us seem to live in that “who’s next” world.
From “top ten” lists, to obsessing over every word of teenagers, it is, of course, out of control.
The truth is, the hiring of new Indiana assistant basketball coach Mike Roberts by third year IU head coach Archie Miller had very little to do with recruiting.
At least not in the way some would have had you believe.
Oh sure, Mike Roberts is a good, experienced recruiter in the same way that a lot of Division One assistant coaches with more than 10 years on the job would be.
He’s almost certainly better than that actually. Truth be told, Miller had to be able to convince himself that Roberts was an above average recruiter to make this hire.
Coaching at UNC Greensboro, Roberts has recruited the same AAU circuits and the same AAU teams as the big boys, albeit targeting a different caliber of player. He has the contacts and knows how to work the process.
But if this were a come-hell-or-high-water five-star recruiting focused coaching search, Mike Roberts would not be IU’s new assistant coach. That couldn’t be more clear.
If this search was all about recruiting like say a Duke or Kentucky, there were probably dozens, maybe hundreds of potential hires that Miller could have turned to first. You know, a Kenny Johnson type of hire, with questionable coaching credentials but clear high level recruiting connections.
Miller didn’t go there. And what that should inform you of at the end of the day is this — this hire never really was about recruiting. Not that kind of recruiting anyway.
So what was it about?
To answer that, you have to start with something that Miller said back in May in reference to the addition of Joey Brunk to his roster.
“I’m really excited to be honest with you to add Joey,” Miller said. “I think Joey has a really, really good personality that’s much needed in our locker room.”
“He’s got a voice and competes and think he’s going to bring a different element to what we have. We need some personality with these guys to juice them up a little bit.”
I wrote a couple weeks ago when Anthony Leal joined Trey Galloway in IU’s 2020 recruiting class that Miller had signaled a shift in the direction of his program. That shift follows in line with Miller’s comments in May about Brunk.
It seems that after spending a miserable season in Bloomington that included losing 12 of 13 games, Miller is orchestrating a sea change.
The now third year head coach would have been absolutely crucified if he didn’t recruit an in-state five-star sensation like Romeo Langford. He did, and he should have.
But that doesn’t mean that was direction he was necessarily looking to go with has program, especially not in his first ever recruiting class.
And it also brings to mind something that lightning rod former player and radio voice Dan Dakich and Seth Greenberg discussed during the doldrums of that losing streak.
“If you have one one-and-done your team is done,” Greenberg told Dakich.
It is a simple statement, but it speaks volumes insofar as who you want to be as a college basketball program.
You are either Duke and Kentucky, or you are national finalists Virginia and Texas Tech.
Miller no doubt sat and watched that national championship game, and he no doubt sat and wondered about the direction of his program.
A shift in the direction of the program has occurred — and the hiring of Mike Roberts falls perfectly in line with where Miller wants to take it.
“He’s got a fire in him,” former IU star guard Tom Coverdale said about his good friend and former teammate Mike Roberts on Indiana Sports Beat earlier this week. “We always used to say, when he gets mad, don’t mess with Mike.”
“He is definitely going to bring that fire, and I think he’s a guy that can’t really contain it either, so you’re going to see it on the bench as well, his intensity, and how into the game he is, and how much it means to him.”
While the reasons for Ed Schilling, the guy Roberts is replacing, leaving IU are not entirely clear, it hadn’t gone unnoticed that he was perhaps a bit too player friendly, wasn’t winning on the recruiting trail, and maybe lacking in energy.
By all accounts Roberts seems to be a guy that can amp up the energy around the program. Not only because he just has that kind of personality, but also because he has that kind of passion for IU.
But Roberts is more than just a rah rah cheerleader type.
He is well known for his basketball acumen too, and being able to communicate those insights to players. Roberts is also regarded as a developer of front court players.
You do still need to bring in talent, however. Rather than focusing on stars and rankings, I believe Roberts was hired by Miller to identify highly talented guys that fit the culture that he is trying to develop in Bloomington.
Coverdale spoke to that point.
“I think it’s the type of kids you recruit and the culture you create inside the building,” he said. “I think from a culture standpoint and a coaching staff standpoint, you have to have your top two or three players be the hardest working on your team, and then that’s going to filter down.”
Roberts wasn’t hired to land five star players, and Coverdale believes that is the right path forward.
“Those are the kind of kids that build culture,” Coverdale said in reference to a Trey Galloway type of player. “If you have all five star kids, you have a lot of kids that have been handed everything growing up.”
When I asked former Michigan head coach John Beilein about how he turned around the program in Ann Arbor, he immediately pointed to culture.
Beilein never landed five star recruits, but he clearly got the program to a place that most Indiana fans would be thrilled with.
The hiring of Mike Roberts falls much more in line with what Beilein did at Michigan, or Virginia and Texas Tech if you prefer.
Miller is trying to turn around a big ship, and Roberts shares his vision for how to do it.
Miller described Roberts as someone that “played an important role in establishing a championship culture at UNCG.”
There’s that word again — culture.
That culture at UNC Greensboro led the program to three straight 25 win seasons and two NCAA tournaments in the last three years in a one bid league.
Mike Roberts knows what a winning culture looks like, he knows the game, and he has a passion for IU.
That’s what this hire was truly about.
Yes, recruiting is an essential element in all of that, but it was never the central theme of the hire.
And don’t let anyone tell you different.
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