Chris Sparks of Wilbraham and Monson Academy in Massachusetts was one of the coaches at last week’s Derby Festival Basketball Classic in Louisville and also the high school coach this past season for class of 2014 signee Max Hoetzel.
Upon his arrival at Wilbraham and Monson last fall from Calabasas (Calif.), Hoetzel saw his recruitment take off, which ultimately culminated in a commitment to Indiana in late October of last year.
Inside the Hall recently caught up with Sparks for an in-depth conversation on Hoetzel and we discussed his growth since arriving at Wilbraham and Monson, his role at the next level and much more.
Here’s a complete transcript of our conversation with Sparks:
Inside the Hall: I was just talking to Max about where he was a year ago and where he is now and his rise. You’ve had him since last fall, can you talk about how he’s gotten better and where he is as a player right now?
Chris Sparks: He’s made significant progress for us. And I think that’s one of the things with the league that we play in. Every team that we play is going to have kids that are going to compete at the Division I, high major, mid-major, low major level. I think it was a good test for him night in and night out and I think it was a big adjustment early on. The pace, the speed of the game and the size and strength of some of the guys compared to where he came from. Not to take anything away from his local high school, but I think midway through the year, he started to get it. He made significant strides, was a huge contributor for us and really led to our success in the league. We had some great success this year and he had some huge games for us on both ends, offensively and defensively. He really changed his game a lot. The catch-and-shoot, one dribble pull-up he was very effective at, he was able to get to the bucket, get to the free throw line. One of the things I think he does really well is: He’s going to get to the free throw line a ton. He has a good ability to get into the lane and get to the free throw line. He’s an 80-plus percent free throw shooter, so that really helps him.
ITH: His recruitment kind of came out of nowhere last fall. A year ago at this time, I wouldn’t have known who he was and then all of the sudden, Indiana offers him and he commits to Indiana. Once he got to you, how did things progress?
CS: Initially, it was Utah, San Diego and a bunch of schools out west, Washington State, that were recruiting him. I think what happened was the team, and the fortunate thing we have is, as many good players as we have on the team, coach (Tom) Crean was recruiting Goodluck (Okonoboh) and he saw this kid and said, ‘wow, this kid can really shoot it.’ And he was able to get a decent evaluation off of that because of the kids he was competing against in practice. And then he came back again and saw him again and his recruiting started to pick up at that point with some different people coming in whether it was UConn. Florida was another school, coach (Billy) Donovan had been up. I give coach Crean and coach (Kenny) Johnson a lot of credit because he kind of saw him first because he kind of identified him and saw that this kid could really be something eventually and play at that level. I think he’s going to do really well there and like I said, by the midpoint of our year, people started to think, this kid is going to be a good player at Indiana.
The Inside the Hall Mailbag is a collection of questions tweeted to us via Twitter (@insidethehall), submitted on our premium forum and sent to us via our Facebook page. Submit your questions and we’ll answer as many as we can.
@AllDay_Ambrose6 on Twitter writes: With our top recruits all having a 3-point shot, which we lacked last year, where do you see all three of them fitting into the rotation?
I see James Blackmon Jr. sliding into the starting lineup immediately and I can also see Robert Johnson pushing Stanford Robinson for a starting spot. Blackmon Jr. can flat out score and his arrival is going to take some of the pressure off of Yogi Ferrell. Johnson can help some at both guard spots, but he is also wired to score, so if he’s making shots consistently and playing defense, he’ll also be hard to keep off the floor.
Max Hoetzel is much harder to judge at this point because I’ve only seen him live in an all-star setting where very little defense was being played. Right now, IU has 11 scholarship players for next season and the health of Collin Hartman is something we won’t know much about until the fall. Hoetzel has a great attitude, believes he belongs and can make perimeter shots. I think that bodes well for him challenging for some early minutes, but it’s too early to say how many at this point. – Alex Bozich
Real Assembly Hall on the premium forum writes: Will any of the games played on the Montreal trip be televised or streamed? Could this trip be considered a dual effort of getting pre season experience in, and also establishing a presence to create an avenue for future recruiting in Canada?
I can’t answer whether anything will be televised or streamed. The only details we’ve got at this point, via reports from Jeff Rabjohns and Zach Osterman, are that IU is going to Montreal in August. I imagine that full details would be announced once all of the plans are finalized. I would be surprised to see any television or streaming coverage, though.
As far as the question of it being a dual effort, I think it’s a lot more about getting the preseason experiences in and more importantly, the practices that accompany it. Obviously, if it can help expand the IU brand in the area, that’s great, but this is about the experience for what will once again be a young team that needs it. — Alex Bozich
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Former Indiana assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Kenny Johnson was introduced as a member of Rick Pitino’s coaching staff at the University of Louisville on Wednesday afternoon.
In his press conference, Johnson talked about his time at Indiana, how tough the decision to leave Bloomington was and much more:
Indiana coach Tom Crean also released a statement on Johnson, which is available after the jump.
Former Indiana forward Jeremy Hollowell will finish his collegiate career at Georgia State. The news was first reported by Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports and a source close to Hollowell confirmed the report to Inside the Hall.
Hollowell averaged 5.7 points and 3.5 rebounds for the Hoosiers last season.
The Lawrence Central product originally came to Indiana in the 2012 class with Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Peter Jurkin and Yogi Ferrell.
The 6-foot-8 Hollowell will have to sit out the 2014-2015 season and will become eligible for the 2015-2016 campaign for coach Ron Hunter, who was at IUPUI before taking over at Georgia State in 2011.
As a sophomore at IU, Hollowell started 15 games this season and scored a career-high 18 points in IU’s 77-46 win over Evansville on Nov. 26.
A former consensus top 50 recruit, Hollowell missed three Big Ten games last season with what Tom Crean called a “focus issue.”
Indiana assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Kenny Johnson is leaving the program for an assistant coaching job at Louisville, according to multiple reports late Monday evening.
The news was first reported by Jeff Ermann of InsideMDSports.
Johnson, who came to Bloomington from Towson in May of 2012, spent two seasons with the program.
A native of Oxon Hill, Md., Johnson was the associate head coach at Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, Virginia for four years prior to joining the Towson staff.
His strong ties to the east coast helped Indiana over the last two years on the recruiting trail as the Hoosiers landed commitments from Max Hoetzel, Noah Vonleh, Robert Johnson, Stanford Robinson and Troy Williams.
Indiana’s recruiting efforts on the west coast over the weekend started in Arizona, but they didn’t end there.
After landing a commitment from 2014 center Jeremiah April of Westwind Prep on Friday night, Tom Crean made his way to El Cajon, California to watch one of the program’s top class of 2016 targets, T.J. Leaf.
Rated the No. 19 player nationally in the 247Composite, Leaf has already been on three unofficial visits to Bloomington and his father, Brad, was a standout at the University of Evansville.
Leaf averaged 27 points and 12 rebounds as a sophomore at Foothills Christian and has scholarship offers from Arizona, Gonzaga, Indiana, UCLA and several others.
Following his unofficial visit to Bloomington in September, Leaf spoke to Inside the Hall about that experience and how he could see himself fitting in at IU.
“It seems like I would fit really well in their system,” he said. “I like coach Crean and I like all of the coaches and what they’re doing there. I was just really impressed.”
Leaf’s other visits to Bloomington came in November for IU’s season opener against Chicago State and in January for IU’s Big Ten home opener against Michigan State.
On Saturday, Crean continued his west coast trip and made an in-home visit to Boston College transfer Ryan Anderson, who is from Lakewood, California.
The 6-foot-9, 216 pound forward, who averaged 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game as a junior, has one year of eligibility remaining, but is expected to sit out the 2014-2015 season and play his final year in 2015-2016.