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Sports Business

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

September 28, 2010
KEYWORDS Sports Business

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.

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