Like he has at every stop along the way during his coaching career, Tom Crean came to Bloomington guns blazing when it came to in-state recruiting.
“We’re going to recruit this state incredibly hard,” Crean said at his Indiana introductory press conference in 2008. “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.”
Crean’s enthusiasm brought early returns. Mr. Basketball winners Jordan Hulls (2009) and Cody Zeller (2011) both signed up. Yogi Ferrell joined in the class of 2012.
Ferrell’s 2012 class was the now infamous “Movement” group that included fellow in-state recruits Jeremy Hollowell, Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Ron Patterson. Another in-state win, Devin Davis, arrived a year later.
Patterson never made it to Bloomington. All of Hollowell, Mosquera-Perea and Davis ended up and transferring.
And from there, IU’s front yard, back yard and side yard became a barren desert.
Crean landed James Blackmon, Jr. in the 2014 class, but he never landed another Mr. Basketball after Zeller, and the only in-state recruit that came to IU in the 2015 through 2017 classes was Grant Gelon.
The list of in-state misses in Crean’s later years included Gary Harris (Michigan State), Zak Irvin (Michigan), Trey Lyles (Kentucky), Caleb Swanigan (Purdue), Joey Brunk (Butler), Kyle Guy (Virginia), Jaren Jackson (Michigan State), Trevon Bluiett (Xavier) and Paul Scruggs (Xavier).
Anyone you talk to will say that Crean didn’t do enough to develop relationships with those in-state players. Said differently, most will tell you that Crean’s personality wasn’t well received as local coaches and families got to know him better over time.
Crean, now the head coach at Georgia, was on the Fort Wayne radio show “Sports Rush” with Brett Rump on Friday afternoon, and he put a slightly different spin on how things evolved during his tenure when it came to in-state recruiting.
“You’ve got to have players that want to come in there and really be excited about what you’re doing,” Crean said.
That’s a true statement, but clearly short on substance. Every player makes a college decision based on some degree of excitement about what the program is doing.
Rump had asked about Georgia in-state recruiting, and in his question managed to slip in a remark about Crean’s late struggles recruiting in-state at IU.
Crean resisted commenting on the IU remark , but in response to a subsequent question about recruiting one-and-done players, he circled back.
Crean is well known in Indiana circles for meticulously scrutinizing the media and not handling criticism well.
But his comments on Friday about the in-state players that chose to pass on him at IU were strange.
Some might even say vengeful.
“You mentioned missing on Indiana kids, some of those Indiana kids that we so-called missed on are still trying to find a way into the NBA or thought they were going to be there real quick and be able to move on quickly, and it just doesn’t work out that way,” Crean said. “They’re either still in college or bouncing through the G-League.”
In the same interview that Crean effusively praised his prized one-and-done in-state Georgia talent Anthony Edwards, Crean almost seemed to enjoy the fact that some of the players that spurned him at IU were still trying to find their way.
Okay, “enjoy” might be too harsh, but Crean is clearly still paying attention — and clearly feels compelled to talk about it.
Crean elaborated on the last big in-state recruit that he landed in Bloomington — Blackmon, Jr.
“There’s a guy that was at Indiana and wanted to be at Indiana for the right reasons,” Crean said, clearly juxtaposing Blackmon, Jr. with the in-state players that went elsewhere.
How much different is Blackmon, Jr. than the others? He ostensibly left school too early. He’s still trying to find his way professionally, although making good money in Italy.
The only thing that really makes Blackmon, Jr. unique in this context is that he is an outlier. Or said differently. the last of the elite in-state players to sign up at IU under Crean.
It is clear that there is an organic in-state pull to Bloomington. Archie Miller’s ability to land three straight Indiana Mr. Basketball winners and ten in-state players overall in his first four recruiting classes (so far) illustrates that point.
It is also well known that Guy and Brunk wanted to come to IU but didn’t because of Crean. Several other players, such as Wilkes, Scruggs, Lyles, Bluiett and Harris were more likely to have landed at IU under a different regime.
But remarks like those on Friday by Crean provide a tiny window into their decisions to go elsewhere.
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