IU's Crean scores recruits, but at what cost?

September 28, 2010
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Indiana University basketball is looking up. At least its long-term future—if you believe in the potential of two recent eighth-grade graduates.

This week, 6-foot-9 Tech High School freshman Trey Lyles orally committed to IU.

This is the Hoosiers’ second commitment from the Class of 2014. Earlier this month 6-foot-2 guard James Blackmon Jr. from Fort Wayne Bishop Luers made a verbal commitment.

Also looking up is Coach Tom Crean’s job security. It’s difficult to say how Crean’s team will do this year on the hardwood. Some school supporters are even starting to cry that if Crean can’t get IU back to the NCAA tournament in the next year or two, Athletic Director Fred Glass may need to go another direction. Translation: Fire Crean.

Glass has all but promised not to fire any coaches until their contracts expire. Crean’s contract doesn’t expire until 2018.

Still, college coaches know by locking up star high school players early, their bosses will be more apt to give them a long leash. After all, it’s no secret how most recruits feel. It’s like Jimmy Chitwood said in the movie Hoosiers: “Coach goes, I go. Coach stays, I play.”

That kind of loyalty from a 6-foot-9 high school freshman also keeps the school’s vocal, big-monied supporters on the side of the coach—at least for a while.

But there are some important questions college coaches and athletic directors need to ask themselves before heading down the road to the nearest junior high school gym.

First, does recruiting 13- and 14-year-olds put too much pressure on the youngsters? Someone might want to ask Damon Bailey if such pressure is a disservice to young players who should be more concerned about basic algebra and biology than their college choice.

If going to college is really about the education, how many 14-year-olds really know what they might want to study in college? That would seem to be a factor on where a prospective student would want to attend. But I digress.

Second, what’s the risk-reward factor in spending time scouting and recruiting players so young, raw and immature? I don’t think anyone would be too surprised if Lyles and/or Blackmon changed their minds (multiple times) before it comes time to sign an official letter of intent.

Eric Gordon and Robert Vaden are just two examples of players who committed early in high school then jilted the college coach who invested precious time recruiting them. Illinois and Purdue were the losers in those two instances, and, ironically, IU was the winner. Both, by the way, were short-lived victories, as both players left IU early.

And despite their size and pedigree, what can any coach know about the potential of a player so young? Wasn’t Bailey supposed to be ready to start for IU as an eighth-grader? Plenty of players recruited as juniors and seniors have failed to live up to coaches’ hype. How much more true will that be for younger players?

Lyles plays on the same summer team as Blackmon. But keep in mind, neither has laced them up for a single high school practice, let alone game.

It seems the job of college coach these days is as much a speculator as it is a mentor, teacher and strategist.

And that speculation could lead to big payoffs. Or perilous pitfalls.

  • Ask
    why don't you ask Damon Bailey instead of speculating?
    • recruiting
      Both of these players are top 10 in their class. It's a safe bet they are good enough to sign. Second, you may actually spend more effort on a kid over his high school career if he waits to commit. All coaches are scouting these kids whether they are offered or not. Please do not use Eric Gordon as an example. He wanted to go to IU but IU was stuck with a TERRIBLE coach.

      As far as keeping Crean's job, yes it does help. It proves he can recruit given time. It also has brought more enthusiasm to the IU program that really needs it after the last 2 coaching embarrassments. Instead of pleading come to IU and we can win, he can say come to IU and we already have these guys.

      Recruiting the GREAT Indiana players isn't that what everybody wanted? Why all or any criticism. The kid can change his mind, the family has fewer recruiting "issues". What is the negative? The kid may decide later he wished he had looked somewhere else? All I know, is there is nowhere better, so no negative!
    • How about this...
      It's great for the kids because they won't have college coaches calling them for the next 4 years. This allows them to focus on school and developing thier games. Blackmon's dad was a standout at Kentucky and coached a player that committed early to Ohio St. He knows more about recruiting than any of us. If he is comfortable, then so am I.
    • Mountain out of mole hill
      Again, Anthony is making a mountain out of a mole hill. Crean can't win. If he doesn't recruit this kid and doesn't make an offer, then more than likely he is going to UNC who also made him an offer at this age and Crean is dragged over the coals for not doing more. Now, Crean gets an early commitment and he is dragged over the coals. College coaches can't win. If Crean doesn't go after these kids now, then he will be trying to play catch up when the kid is eligible to officially sign. The media is making more of this than should be. It is happening all over the country by every college coach. What you think Coach K isn't talking to kids who are just going to be freshman? If you think he isn't, then I have some oceanfront property in Kansas I would like to sell you.
    • happening all over the country
      To IUhoosier1992: Lots of things "are happening all over the country." That doesn't mean they are right. But I get your point about the competitive marketplace. I'm not dragging Crean over the coals, though I think university presidents all over the country should take a look at this from an educational perspective. What I would say, this practice carries a number of very high risk factors to those coaches that execute the strategy of targeting 8th graders in their recruiting. And while coaches may think it adds to their job security, I would argue that it only makes their job more difficult and perilous in the long-run. That's why I think you'll see a reversal of this trend in time as more of these young diamonds turn out to be lumps of coal on the court. Sadly, that decision will have nothing to do with the well being (academically or otherwise) of the kids involved.
    • agree
      I agree about contact Bailey.
      Since you brought his name into the article, it would have been interesting to see what he says on the subject
    • no bother
      I'd say this to Drep, there's no way a flimsy oral commitment from a 14-year-old is going to keep other college coaches away. Take it from a coach.
    • Hire Coach Lickliter
      IU should hire Coach Todd Lickliter before he gets away. He's close by in Indy and would be perfect for this program for the next 10 years. Wake up AD Glass--you know he's the right man for the job.
    • give Crean a chance
      First of all, Coach Crean is a class act and just what IU needed after the last two fiascos! Tell me how Mike Davis got one of the top jobs in the country with no big time coaching experience. But I disgress. Then they bring in the "cheater" from Oklahoma. That went well. The program has steadily fallen in stature and Tom Crean has a mountain to climb. To his credit he is doing it the right way, with integrity and class. Unfortunately, this is not the way you turn around a big time program in a micro second. It took several years for IU to get in this predictument, and it will take a few more to get out of it. IU needs stability. Tom Crean is a pillar that we should be rallying around. He is making inroads in the state and his recruitment of these players is a testimony to his hard work. IU is not the glamorous place to play basketball at this time. The fact these players have chosen IU over the other schools is amazing to me. I hope we are able to keep them. There is still a lot of recruiting to do to keep them committed.
    • R U Serious
      What qualifies you to even comment about IU basketball. Have you ever met Coach Crean. Have you ever talked to any of these recruits. Obviously based on your previous articles you have a personal bias. Did you mention the fact that these were two kids from Indiana. Like it or not, the head basketball coach at IU has to do this as coaches from all over the country are coming in and making their pitch. Don't always pick what conveniently fits your agenda.
    • creepy
      it's a little creepy that grown men are chasing down 14 year olds.
      we don't allow kids to be kids anymore...and that's a shame.
    • Agree, but...
      jersey, I agree with you but the kids know most of this going into the process. These kids are on AAU teams and are approached on a regular basis. This isn't new to them. If the kids didn't want this, then they would probably go a different direction in their athletic careers.

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