Recruiting momentum. It’s a phrase that gets thrown around a lot.
When Romeo Langford committed to Indiana in late April, fans and analysts alike wondered whether that would somehow open the floodgates for a stream of five-stars to follow him to Indiana.
Now we are entering the class of 2019 commitment busy season, as IU awaits word from several high end targets. Some may follow Langford’s lead and wait until next spring, but for the most part commitments will be made over the next 3 to 4 months — and we will find out if Indiana really has something going here.
But is there even such a thing as a recruiting momentum? Would someone really choose a school just because another talented player did a year before?
Former IU player, radio host and ESPN analyst Dan Dakich was asked about the subject on the Hammer and Nigel Show and gave this response after Langford committed:
“Oh I think so, I think it makes it cool to come to IU under Archie Miller. I think it’s really good and eye opening for a lot of kids. Kids are seeing this thinking now it’s OK to stay in-state and play for IU….There is no doubt that there will be a domino effect.
I thought the same thing when Cody Zeller came to Indiana, you know, Yogi Ferrell followed, and the next thing you know they win a Big Ten title or two…..There is no doubt about.”
Dakich isn’t afraid to give negative opinions when it comes to Indiana basketball, so a statement like that from a guy that has been around the game for nearly 40 years means something.
Another guy who should know was asked a similar question around the same time. Former IU star guard Jordan Hulls joined the Kent Sterling Show and was asked whether in-state recruiting momentum was gained by the program after guys like Hulls and Derek Elston committed to Indiana in the class of 2009.
“I believe so. When you see guys, whether they came on visits or what have you, we had a chance to talk with them and say that you are an Indiana kid….I think its just a different feeling when you are from here and you’ve heard everything about Indiana basketball”
Hulls has first hand knowledge on the subject. He was a pioneering guy like Langford that helped get the ball rolling.
There was definitely in-state recruiting momentum at IU during his time. Cody Zeller and Austin Etherington followed. Yogi Ferrell, Jeremy Hollowell, Hanner Mosquera-Perea, and Ron Patterson followed. Devin Davis and Collin Hartman followed. James Blackmon, Jr. followed.
And then it stopped, at least from an in-state perspective. Recruiting momentum can stop as fast as it starts it seems. The fact that fortunes can be reversed should tell you something. Sustained recruiting momentum is more than just a few cool dudes picking your school. So what does it take?
THE RIGHT COACH
Some coaches are better than others at the recruiting game.
In the spring of 2009 Kentucky hired John Calipari to replace Billy Gillispie as the Wildcats head coach. Calipari wasted little time establishing recruiting momentum. Prior to his first season he signed one of the program’s best recruiting classes ever, including four five-star recruits: John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton, and Eric Bledsoe.
Few Indiana fans have an appetite for the Kentucky model of college basketball, but there is no denying that there has been a whole heck of a lot of recruiting momentum in Lexington since Calipari was hired. You need to have a coaching staff that knows how to successfully navigate the rigors of the recruiting hustle.
Jay Wright didn’t come to Villanova armed with a group of five stars Calipari. He had to make incremental recruiting gains built on a foundation of winning. Eventually it allowed him to recruit at the highest levels.
The Villanova model is one that is likely a bit more palatable for Hoosier fans. While they bring in their share of five-star players, they also look for guys that fit their system. It is a hybrid model that obviously suits them well, but it didn’t happen until Villanova started winning. Now that they have become an elite program, they can nearly hand-select their roster.
Recruits can stop coming if coaches can’t win too. Top Indiana target D.J. Carton has said repeatedly that he wants to play for a winner, and it makes sense. The better the team, the higher the profile for the next level. Who had Donte Divincenzo as the 17th pick in the NBA Draft prior to the NCAA Tournament?
Mitch McGary had a similar run with Michigan a few years ago. Winning matters to most of these guys, and for good reason.
FROM COOL PLAYER TO COOL PROGRAM
Duke probably doesn’t have recruiting “momentum” anymore. They don’t need a cool player to commit to set the stage for others to follow. At this point, the “Duke” on the front of the jersey does most of the heavy lifting. They are the cash cow of college basketball recruiting.
Of course they have earned their place in the food chain. They have had the cool players come in — for decades. They have won for decades. They are at the pinnacle of where recruiting momentum can take you.
Essentially, they are Indiana from roughly 1971 to 1995 — and we all know that in the life cycle of college basketball, good things can come to an end. Some have suggested that with former Duke assistant coach Jeff Capel headed to Pittsburgh and Mike Krzyzewski nearing retirement — perhaps that day is coming sooner than later for Duke.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Romeo Langford and the Class of 2018 is a good start. A player or two might even come to IU in their footsteps.
But alone, that won’t be enough. In order to have sustained momentum, players are going to need to see IU win. They are going to need evidence that coming to Indiana has a proven track record of putting guys in the NBA. They are going to need to see the “Indiana” on the jersey as cool, not just Romeo.
With big time talent like Trayce Jackson-Davis, Keion Brooks, Jr., Trendon Watford, D.J. Carton and several others all likely announcing commitments over the next 3 to 4 months, we are about to find out if Archie Miller and the Indiana program is getting back into a recruiting groove.
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