Tom Crean’s recruiting philosophy has always been fairly clear during his tenure at Indiana: Pursue players that will fit your program — no matter where they are ranked — and develop them.
Crean didn’t always get highly-touted recruits during his first several years in Bloomington, but they all fit his philosophy. Even though coaches at other major college programs ignored some of the players Crean went after — namely Will Sheehey and Victor Oladipo — Crean treated them like they would be important parts of a rebuilding project.
Now that fans have gotten an opportunity to see how Crean has developed various players, it’s much easier to understand what his goal was all along.
“Some of the people that rank players for a living are some of my close friends, good friends, and I read it non-stop,” Crean said Thursday. “But we don’t make our decisions on it. You just can’t. It’s part of the tools that are available. Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, and you recruit that way. Sometimes it’s hard for your fan base to see that, but you have to stay true to it.
“The rankings and the top 100s and all of those things matter absolutely zero when it comes to the next level. They might track you earlier because you’re ranked, but it doesn’t have anything to do with where you get picked or who you play for or how long you play for. … Once you get here, it’s a clean slate no matter what. The ranking doesn’t help you win a game or lose a game, it doesn’t carry you to the next practice. Sometimes it’s a burden.”
Indiana’s 2013 recruiting class has a good mix of highly-ranked players and a few who may be undervalued by scouting services. The Hoosiers’ success in recent years has given the program national visibility and helped it lure recruits that might not have previously considered Indiana. But Crean has also stayed true to his original philosophy, signing a variety of pieces he feels will best fit together.
Here’s a look at the 2013 class, with Crean’s analysis of each individual player.
Noah Vonleh (five stars, ranked 8th by ESPN.com), New Hampton School, Haverhill, Mass., 6-foot-8, 220 pounds:
“That’s a dream recruit in this sense: to have someone who’s that humble, who’s that grounded, and that talented at that age, you can’t expect that. The stars were aligned for us. The upside is just enormous. As talented and as skilled as he is, that upside, it’s hard to imagine it. He’s incredibly unselfish. They can give him the ball at the top of the key in a 1-4 set, and he’ll deliver the ball. He’s like Cody in that he doesn’t look for his offense nearly enough. He’s another one of those young guys we have here who is untapped in the sense that they have no idea how good they can be.”
Troy Williams (four stars, ranked 33rd by ESPN.com), Oak Hill Academy, Hampton, Va., 6-foot-7, 190 pounds:
“When we found out that we had an opportunity to recruit him, and it became apparent that there was a small window to get in, the window just kept getting bigger and bigger. Here’s a guy that we were already a fan of. And once we had the opportunity to recruit him and see how he would fit, we couldn’t have drawn it up much better.
“He’s a cross between Will and Victor when you combine the height, the athleticism, just the incredible leaping ability, the explosion, the ability to run end to end. We’re gonna be great for Troy because we’re gonna help him get much better in the half-court and get much better in the ball screens. But what he brings to the table when it comes to energy, edge, up and down the floor, the ability to offensive rebound — those are crucial things. He’s a stat-sheet stuffer without really understanding how to do all that.”
Associate head coach Steve McClain met with the media on Thursday afternoon to preview Saturday’s game with Butler in the Close the Gap Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Watch and listen to the press conference in the embedded media player below:
Glass: Program has returned to 1980’s form
Fred Glass knew what Indiana basketball was supposed to look like. Glass graduated from IU in 1980, and he was at Assembly Hall for numerous games during the Bob Knight era.
When Glass took over as Indiana’s Athletics Director in 2009, the basketball program he saw wasn’t what he remembered. It was left in shambles by Kelvin Sampson and would take time to rebuild.
But while some questioned whether or not Indiana would ever return to what it had previously been, Glass remained confident. In an interview with Inside the Hall earlier this week, Glass said he knew the program would look like it does now.
“I absolutely did, man, because that’s what I lived,” Glass said. “We didn’t have the general admission thing so we didn’t have the lineup, but every game was an opportunity, and people went no matter who the opponent was and just went crazy. The place was loud as hell.
“I had seen what it looked like, I had lived what it looked like. That’s why I just felt like we had to hold things together a little bit as Tom [Crean] rebuilt it. So I’ve seen this before. It’s like it was when things were really rocking in the 80s. The current student body is taking it to a new level. But I really thought it could get back to this. That’s what we’ve been pushing for the whole time, and we’ll stay pushing for it.”
After the Hoosiers’ decisive win over North Carolina last month, Roy Williams said he had just been dominated by two players he’d never heard of before they got to IU, referring to Jordan Hulls and Victor Oladipo. But you could also throw Will Sheehey’s name in there as he, too, was sorely underrecruited. Now, though, there isn’t any team in the country that wouldn’t take those three players.
“It starts with Tom Crean,” Glass said. “If Tom didn’t have the eye for talent and the eye for what could be, Roy Williams still wouldn’t have heard of those three guys. I read quotes recently where Kelvin Sampson was quoted as saying that Jordan Hulls might be a nice NAIA player, but Tom came and immediately honed in on him and said, ‘we’ve got to get you to make everything happen. We’ve got to build it all around you.’
“And then when Victor and Sheehey came in, that class was met with kind of a ‘ho-hum’ inside and outside Hoosier Nation. But Tom saw in those guys what could be. It really goes back to Tom and his willingness not to follow the pack, do his own scouting, make his own judgments, not make the safe choice, get guys that others might not know about, and then develop the hell out of them.”
Can Butler pull off another upset and knock off No. 1 Indiana in the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse this weekend?
The Hoosiers face their first real challenge since dominating No. 21 North Carolina in Assembly Hall two weeks ago.
To break down IU’s matchup with the Bulldogs, Indianapolis Star Butler beat writer David Woods and Inside The Hall’s Ryan Corazza join Podcast on the Brink. Hosts Matt Dollinger and Greg Rosenstein discuss the Bulldogs’ upset chances against IU and preview the Saturday clash in Indianapolis.
Among the other topics discussed this week:
· The debuts of Hanner Perea and Peter Jurkin · Cody Zeller’s matchup with Andrew Smith · How to contain Butler guard Rotnei Clarke · Will Sheehey’s persona and role as sixth man · Christian Watford’s offensive role going forward
For the first time in a little more than three months, we’ve refreshed our 2014 recruiting board. There’s once again movement near the top of the board and a couple of new faces since our last update, including a pair of highly rated backcourt players.
The latest version of the board, complete with updated player photos, national rankings, notes, school lists and links to recruit profiles, is available at the link below:
Will Sheehey hits a corner 3 against North Carolina, and the top offense in the nation punches the lead out to 31.
On the other end of the court, Indiana’s sixth man, the underrecruited, unheralded Florida native, once ranked just the No. 131 recruit in the nation by Rivals.com, fronts someone who came to the Tar Heels under a bigger spotlight: McDonald’s All-American James Michael McAdoo. Sheehey’s giving up size to the sophomore, but he knocks the ball out of McAdoo’s hands and out of bounds. Once inbounded, Sheehey and Indiana’s team defense force McAdoo into a turnover.
Two IU possessions later, the junior wing hits another 3-pointer, and he rollicks down the floor like a man possessed, banging his right middle, ring and pinky fingers against his right temple — the team’s symbol for “3” this season.
On the ensuing Tar Heel possession, Remy Abell fouls Dexter Strickland on a made lay-in. Sheehey’s about to be subbed out for the final time on the night, but he’s not done. He re-directs his body — with purpose, mind you — to get a shoulder into Strickland and says a little something into his ear for good measure.
By the time the buzzer sounds and Sheehey leaves the court, it’s a coronation. A jawing celebration with fellow junior Victor Oladipo and a high five and some spirited words from his coach Tom Crean — with both interactions maybe featuring a colorful word or two out of Sheehey’s mouth. More high fives and jacked-up celebrations come from IU’s entire bench, as Sheehey makes his way from the coaching staff down to the last player.
He finishes the night with 19 points, five rebounds, two steals and a heck of a lot of pointing and barking and vocal leading on the court.
After the game, a veteran member of IU’s press corps asks Sheehey where all the emotion came from after that 3-pointer.
“Will had a very similar role on our team that he has at Indiana,” Sagemont’s Adam Ross, Sheehey’s high school coach, said Tuesday morning from his office in south Florida. “He’s a high-energy guy. He brings an incredible amount of intensity and work ethic … Will was a leader.”
Hoosiers playing well, but the best is yet to come
Through its first nine games, Indiana has lived up to the preseason narrative that placed the Hoosiers at the top of the national polls.
They’ve done it by grinding out a pair of wins at the Barclays Center to win the Legends Classic, burying North Carolina in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge and pounding the six other opponents that have entered Assembly Hall.
And it’s not just the human polls who have anointed the Hoosiers the best team in the land. The computers bear it out, too, thus far.
As expected, Indiana’s offense is first in the country in efficiency according to KenPom.com. But that was to be expected given how the Hoosiers performed a season ago.
What was less certain is how this team would fare on the other side of the ball. So far, so good as it pertains to that question. Indiana ranks seventh in defensive efficiency and looks like a group who understands that defense is just as important if the goal is to play deep into the NCAA Tournament.
When combing through the roster, Indiana appears to have the most complete mix of talent and pieces in the land.
“They’ve got versatility, they’ve got shooters, they’ve got size,” CBS Sports analyst Clark Kellogg told me last month. “They’ve got perhaps the player of the year in Cody Zeller.”
Zeller is the country’s most versatile big man and is coming off his best game statistically of the season after a battle with asthmatic bronchitis. In the back court, Jordan Hulls is third in the country in effective field goal percentage (75.0). His running mate, Yogi Ferrell, boasts an assist rate of 28.4, good for fifth in the Big Ten.
On the wings, Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey have a legitimate case for being called the two most improved players on the roster. Oladipo is shooting close to 76 percent on his 2-point field goal attempts and has arguably been the Big Ten’s best defender. Sheehey, meanwhile, has perfected his old school midrange game and has morphed into an even bigger pest defensively.
And don’t forget Christian Watford, who already has a pair of 20-point games. Remy Abell has also showcased an improved offensive game and is a gritty defender.
But as Indiana rides the momentum of a 9-0 start and a No. 1 national ranking into Bankers Life Fieldhouse to face Butler on Saturday, there’s a sense that these Hoosiers could become much more dangerous in the weeks leading up to Big Ten play. That’s because freshmen Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin have completed their NCAA-mandated nine-game suspensions and are eligible to play beginning this weekend.
It’s a challenging proposition for any team to blend in new pieces, but for a team that’s been steamrolling opponents like Indiana has, it’s an even bigger challenge to integrate Mosquera-Perea and Jurkin while avoiding interruption of what’s been working well.
“It’s not a wholesale, ‘well we’ll do this now because this guy’s back or that guy’s back.’ It doesn’t work that way,” Tom Crean said Monday evening on his radio show. “You’ve gotta blend it in. You don’t want to put your players in situations that they’re not ready for.
The Indiana staff has had a great deal of recruiting success on the East Coast recently, and they seem focused on continuing to hit that part of the country hard.
After scoring commitments from Troy Williams and Noah Vonleh earlier this fall, Crean extended an offer to 2015 New Jersey guard Malachi Richardson last week. Richardson, a 6-foot-6 prospect from Roselle Catholic High School, is ranked 20th in the 2015 class, according to ESPN.com.
Richardson already has offers from Cincinnati, Rutgers, Seton Hall and Miami (Fl.), and has also reportedly received interest from Connecticut.
Despite the interest from other schools, though, Roselle Catholic coach Dave Boff said Richardson has always had an interest in Indiana. The rising sophomore played his first high school season at Treton Catholic.
“They were always high on his list when he transferred to my school,” Boff said. “That was one of the school’s that he really was interested in and was hoping to get an offer from. He’s pretty in touch with what Indiana’s program is all about. I know he spent some time talking to Coach [Crean] over the past few weeks, so I think he has a pretty feel for what Indiana is doing out there and the things that are happening with the program.”
The main strength of Richardson’s game at this point is his shooting ability. Boff said Richardson has continued to gain more range, and his shot has developed remarkable consistency for his age.
“Right now, the only thing I think he has to do is, offensively, just fine-tune a few things,” Boff said. “He already shoots it fantastically, shoots out to 23-24 feet at this point. He can take it to the rim and dunk in traffic. His ability to create space off the dribble to get his own shot is as good as I’ve ever seen.