Men's Basketball Staff Talks About 13th Ranked Recruiting Class
Nov. 14, 2013
COACH CREAN: Recruiting wise, and again, this is why these guys are up here, too, recruiting is always a team effort. It's a team effort with your players. It's a team effort with your support staff. It's a team effort with your fans and the way that they support and care about the program and the way they turned out for the Hoosier Hysterias and the games. But we wouldn't be anywhere without what these guys are doing, because you've got to have you're not going to win without great point guard play, and these guys really are the point guards per se of what we're doing because they know where everybody needs to be. They know exactly what we need. They recruit at a high level. They don't just recruit in a one or two dimension way. They recruit the whole gamut.
For our recruiting class this year, I think it's a sign of the times that whatever way we looked at recruiting in the past, it's all changing now. It's all changing, so you've got to be able to adjust with it. It's like the new rules. Who adjusts the best gets it. Well, you've got to stay true to what you want, and we tried to stay true to getting people that have athletic upside, that had that character and work ethic upside, have that intelligence upside and that are really competitive and from winning programs, and I think we hit that. I think we absolutely hit that.
We hit on getting people that come from winning programs, not just good teams. We hit on getting people from excellent families, and we hit on getting people that are well coached.
I'll start with the way that that came down with Robert Johnson, Jr. We got a guy that plays with an edge. He has a determination about him. He was one of those guys that was known but relatively unknown nationally until the summer came, and he went out there and established what he could do. And we started recruiting him even while James was committed because we felt the two of them could play together. And even after James decommitted and during the recruiting process to get him to come back with us, we never wavered on those two together could be phenomenal.
To have it turn out this way is excellent because with where we're at, we're trying to get multidimensional, versatile attack, downhill players that can make shots, and Robert Johnson can do all that. He can play off the ball, he can play he can handle the ball. He can play down the middle. He can play off the wing. He can shoot the three. He's got a tenacity defensively. He's got a strong work ethic. He's got a humility that we love. He was very, very easy for the players to enjoy when he was on a visit. A couple of them knew him from that part of the country but most didn't, and he fit in extremely well.
He comes from a home where they want the best for him. They've preached education. He's done an outstanding job in school. Year round winner like I said in high school and in the AAU program and wants to be a great player. So we were very, very fortunate to get him. His tenacity, his ability to make plays and make shots, his ability to deliver the basketball, his ability to get up into people defensively helps him right off the bat.
The other letter that's in is James Blackmon, Jr. This to me, I've known him, we've known him longer than we've known half our team, and getting to know James Blackmon from the very beginning, in June of 2010 when he came up to a camp for the first time, all the way through to today when I talked to him after he'd signed, it has been an absolute privilege to be a part of that family, because when you start to think about families, and we've recruited some really great families at Indiana; that's a family right there. His mom and dad not only are you getting a well coached young man but you're getting a young man that's coached by his dad. And what he did with Deshaun Thomas in high school and the way he's won at Luers High School is fantastic. So you know you're getting somebody that's bringing James has an ability to do so much, and he's being pushed to do a lot, and that's going to be very, very key when he gets here.
James is a phenomenal shooter with phenomenal range. He's getting better every day with his ball handling, with his driving. He is one of the best open court players that I have ever personally been a part of recruiting. He's growing.
I think the greatest thing to me about James is how he recovered from his knee injury and what he did to take that that chip on his shoulder of being a great player just got bigger and bigger, and sometimes when you go through an injury like that, you can go the other way. He didn't. He went the way of becoming better and better. I think he's just scratching the surface athletically. I think he's just scratching the surface as a player. In my mind we got the absolute best player in the state of Indiana, and there was no debate for us for a long, long time that he was that guy. And not just because of what he's doing but because of what he can do in high school, and then what I think he can do here.
He is going to become a guy that is going to be able to handle that ball. He's got point guard skills. He has got versatility, and he's got a want to, and again, he just knows how to play. He knows how to win. He can fit in any environment. It's like Tim Buckley would say, he can make a shot in Marion, Indiana, he's going to be able to make a shot in Assembly Hall, he can make a shot in a third world country, not knowing anybody. He can shoot the ball.
We knew going in that that was going to be an absolute must for us was to get better there, and so we addressed our needs with a capital N, I guess, so to speak, in the way that we recruited. But to get the quality of young men, to get the way that they are as people and their families and to bring those families in here and to bring young men that really know how to win, that's a big deal.
And going through the process with James, even after the decommitment, I got it. You know, I got it at that time, why he decommitted. He had never been anywhere else. He had never seen another school.
A few years ago you grow as a parent, you grow as a coach. I mean, I got it. Sometimes people can decommit, and it's the best thing that can happen for you. That was not the case with James. We really wanted him to be here, and we were willing to be in the fight. We were willing to be in the fight, and that's what it was because everybody else wanted him, too. He's an outstanding player.
But it helped the relationship continue to not only grow but to cement. It gave him a different perspective, and I think it made him or helped him I should say appreciate Indiana that much more and appreciate what it means to play in the state of Indiana because he is a young man from Indiana. He got a chance to see some great programs. He got a chance to see them showing what they had to offer, their best. But the great thing about him is you always knew when we didn't have it.
Q. Were you surprised that you got three guys that are known for their great shooting?
COACH CREAN: I'll answer the first part because I think this is big. People know we've got a lot of really good parts here, and we've got young men when they come in, the one thing that continues to grow is the astute view that they take on where they fit in and how they're going to fit, because obviously more and more, it's about how do you play early, and especially at a place like Indiana. I think people could come in here and say there's a real need, these guys are really good, there's a lot of talent here, but I think I can come in and really impact it because that's what we needed. So that's my view.
Tim Buckley: I think with both James and Robert, you'll all enjoy watching them play because they're very good basketball players. Even in the summertime sometimes when you watch games and they aren't as pleasant to watch sometimes because they play so many games, both of those guys have a great feel. They know how to play. And it's even neat to watch them miss shots because those shots are so nice and soft and they put it up there on the rim and every time both of them shoot it you think it's going to go in, but they also do a great job of getting other people shots.
We felt they were really good basketball players to fit in what we already have, and not only will they do well here but they'll also accentuate what the other guys do here.
Q. Tim, did it hurt at some level for Blackmon to decommit?
Tim Buckley: Well, because of the relationship we all had with them, they all understood where it was coming from, and they explained it was because he needed to see some other things, and we felt in the long run because he was somebody we really wanted here, it would only make that bond grow stronger, and that's exactly what it did. Now I think he feels even more excited and positive about his decision.
Q. You got what you wanted from this class obviously, but with all the twist and turns, was this one of the strangest recruiting classes?
COACH CREAN: Well, I think to a degree. But here again, it's all part of the 24/7 news cycle right now. It's like last year with the over signing. We couldn't necessarily talk about on a daily basis what we thought was going to happen in house. You just can't do that. You've got to continue to recruit, recruit and recruit, and you'd better have flexibility. You'd better have thick skin. You'd better not get your feelings hurt and you'd better be able to adjust on the fly, but at the same time with that being said you never get away from what the priorities are.
So I think what happens is you can't you've got to have a plan, okay, another plan, a contingency plan and then a contingency plan for the contingent plan. You just do. And I think if you don't do that, it's like the world now, you've got to keep moving with it. It's like these new rules. You've got to keep adjusting to the game. Every game is different. How do you adjust to it?
I think the way it has gone thus far, it was all worth it. There's no question it was worth it because we got the guys that we wanted to. It was worth waiting for James. He was that special to us, and that family epitomizes the kind of family you want in your program. You want them around your other parents. You want them around your program. And at the same time we knew there was risk, so we'd better have a plan for that risk.
It's the same thing last year with the over signing. You constantly have to have you have to have the ability to adapt, okay, but you also have to have the stick to itiveness to say, okay, this could happen, this may not happen, we've got to stay with it, but this is what our priorities are, and I thought we pretty much cracked our priorities, so I feel pretty good about that.
Kenny Johnson: Honestly I think it's the people that we're bringing in. You're bringing in individuals who are coming to play for the University. They believe in what the program stands for and they're coming to add to that, first and foremost. You talk to those guys, the first thing they talk about is winning a championship. Their personal goals, while you can tell by how hard they push themselves and how they continue to get better day in and day out that they have personal goals, but their personal goals are definitely secondary. They're as excited about the other members of the class that are coming in with them and they're excited to see the guys that are here currently succeed as they can possibly be. And when you have that and you're bringing in people with their abilities, on court abilities, you know they're going to fit into the culture. And that's the most exciting thing is you're bringing in people that are highly skilled, highly talented, who want an education but actually fit into your current culture that you have, that's like hitting a home run.
Q. Do you anticipate signing anyone in the spring?
COACH CREAN: Well, I think, again, recruiting is a case study because every recruit is a different person, and I think it's the same with that. That worked out with Evan last year, because think about it, you guys know this as well as I do, we were over signed by three and then all of a sudden we were under by one. It happens, so you'd better know where they're at. I don't have much of a clue on that right now, but I'm sure you just have to know. That doesn't mean you're recruiting anybody, doesn't mean you will, doesn't mean you won't, you just have to know. You hope you don't have to use all the late game plays that you have or use all the late game plays that the other team has, but you'd better have them. You'd better have them there ready.
We don't have any plans on that right now. It's not like we're sitting there and have a board for that like we have a board for freshmen and sophomores and juniors, but you see what happens.
Do you got anybody in mind? Do you know of anybody out there? I've heard about your game.
Q. How did the development of Victor help on the sales pitch for recruits?
Steve McClain: Young players watched the guy, and one thing we talk about with young players is not only Victor but Cody and still Will in the program, are you ready. And I think Victor has already shown not only was he good enough to be the No. 2 pick, what he's already done in the NBA, he was NBA ready. Somebody didn't just say wake up and say, let's go be in the draft. When he chose to do that, he knew he was ready. Cody was ready.
I think that is I know that's one thing that these young guys looked at when they were looking at when they looked at is Indiana the best for us. There's no question, the development of those guys has played a big role in this.
Q. Two more players from the East Coast; do you think Indiana has more reach now than it did two or three years ago?
COACH CREAN: Well, I think the bottom line is this is one of the greatest alumni bases in the country, so that's going to put your name in a lot of different places. Then you tack on the fact that Indiana has had all the success it's had for decades and the way it's viewed as a basketball program. Then you not only add the ESPN and CBS but now the way the Big Ten Network has taken off, that it's in a lot more homes than just the Big Ten area, and I think the fact that the Big Ten has branched out to the East continues to enhance it.
But to us you just want to absolutely get the best fit. We have been able to start at home, really every year but Will and Victor's year, and I wouldn't trade either one of those two for anybody, but you try to start at home in an inside out theory, and like I said with James, we feel like we got the best player in the state hands down. So you want to be able to do that, but you also want to put the people that fit best into your program, best into your locker room, best into your work ethic, fit best with your families, fit best on the court because they want to be great, they have aspirations of the team being great, not just personal ambitions, and in this day and age it's getting harder and harder to work through that because there's so much, how quick can I do this, how quick can I do that. You need to win, and other players want to be around other winners, and you want to get people that can really mesh like that.
Indiana is a national, international program with an international respect, just like it is academically, and again, you don't really go into it saying we need to target this area, we need to target that area. You have areas that you're stronger in, but you really want to go anywhere where you're going to find people that are absolutely going to fit what you're trying to do.
Q. Before James gave you the call to let you know he was coming here, how confident were you with your efforts to try to get him here?
COACH CREAN: Oh, it changed. It changed by the minute. We knew we were in it. We absolutely knew we were in it. But it was worth it. Not just because we got him but because how we felt about him. We always thought this was the best place for him because we knew him pretty well and we got a pretty good idea what he needs to do to be as successful as he wants to be. We know where he wants to go, and we have a pretty good idea with all the time we've spent with him of how he's going to get there. But to act like, to know that we had it, no. I didn't know we had Cody Zeller until he called.
I don't think you ever put yourself in that position as a coach because I think the moment that you get there is the moment you let your guard down and you can't do that. But in these cases, it's going to get harder and harder. I think over a period of time now the way recruiting is going, look at all the upcoming announcements that are coming. You're going to find out when we find out, we're going to find out when you find out. It's getting harder and harder. So again, you just deal with the flexibility. That's in answer to Dustin's question what continues to change. Recruiting has always been a big deal, it's always been a big business. Now it's at another level because of social media and because of the television opportunities. We're just getting closer and closer to the way it is in football more and more.
We all knew I felt like we were heading there, just like football is headed closer and closer to the way it is in basketball. There's more travel teams, there's more unofficial visits all over the country. It's just the way that it is dealing with young people.
Q. So you did find out when he called?
COACH CREAN: I didn't truly know he was coming until he got on that air that night. I knew what our last conversations were like. I know what those were like, without question, and I knew what he wanted to do when he got up there. But actually going up there and doing it and pulling out that hat, I was I wasn't shocked and I wasn't but it wasn't like I had the smile going into it. We needed to see him put that hat on. We really did.
So no, that's the truth. We talked he'll tell you, we talked pretty close right up until about when he went on stage.
Q. As you've gotten a bigger foothold on the East Coast, how has recruiting evolved?
Kenny Johnson: I think Coach kind of touched on the national exposure of the program. You're talking about basketball fans. People know the history of Indiana. One of the things that one of the first things they usually talk about is the style of play that Indiana plays with. People know Coach and the staff, and honestly Coach Buckley and Coach McClain have as many resources and connections out there on the East Coast as anyone I've ever met.
But the style of play that we play with, the separating factors I think are well documented, the ability to get a great education, the ability to develop not only mentally as a player on the court but through strength and development, those things are what really attracts individuals to the program. You're talking about playing at the highest level of college basketball, and people are trying to achieve their goals.
Like Coach said, we always start close to the home first in this great state because there's many great basketball players here, but after that we do an exhaustive search to try to find people that we think best fits our program. You know, and we talk a lot about the East Coast, but I would like to think in the very near future you may hear us talking about the West Coast or internationally like coach said or even down South. It truly is more about the fit than it is the location of where the individual is.
Q. Have you seen any impact of the Big Ten Network expanding?
COACH CREAN: Without a doubt. I think once we've always tried to play on the East Coast, not just because we knew that there was expansion coming but because we have so many fans there. We have so many alums on the East Coast. The bottom line is you want to bring people in that any Indiana fan is going to be able to identify with as having the values of an Indiana University person and Indiana University basketball player. We spend more time on trying to make sure we're finding people that have those characters and values along with that talent level and upside and all those different things as much as anything, and I think the way that compounds it is there's so many opportunities for people to watch the Big Ten Network on any given night, and when you're in a program like this where every game is on television, they're going to be able to build an identity with you. Do they feel like they really fit with you.
And there's no question that we've had some games over the last couple years that have just been national moments for us, certainly the Kentucky game and the Michigan game and the Michigan State game and all those different things.
Well, it's what builds up over a period of time, and when young people are watching you play on a given night because you're on a network that they can watch you on, and then you say, you know what, your parents are going to be able to do the same thing, and your friends and family are going to be able to do the same thing, I think that's a big deal. I don't think there's any question the Big Ten Network has had a big jump for us nationally. And I'd be surprised if other people in the league don't feel the same way. I've never really asked anybody, but I know we're talking about the Big Ten Network a lot with people.
Q. You mentioned Robert and James playing well together; can you expand on that?
COACH CREAN: I think that first off they're winners. I think second off their versatility. I think if you look at our team last year, and I know I've said this before, we really had two guys play the point but the third one got drafted as the point guard. Victor went No. 2 because they saw Russell Westbrook. Is he a 2? Is he a 1? Do you know what, positions are so I don't want to say they're overrated, but if you've got to make a choice between a position and the best player, we're going to go for the best player and we'll let somebody else pick the position. It's like experience over talent. We'll take the talent. If that talent can get better, we'll take the talent.
Well, I think it's the same with those two. They can play together, they can move the ball, they can play without the ball, they can play downhill, they can shoot the ball, they can get others shots. They've both got to better defensively, but who doesn't when they're coming into college. They're both going to have to get stronger, but who doesn't. They've both got to learn the speed and pace of the game, but who doesn't.
But the bottom line is when you're skilled, and like Tim said, they play basketball and they know the game, so I don't think there's any question that they can play together. And I think if people are paying attention to us, they know that one of the benchmarks of us right now is versatility and is being able to do different things and getting more guards in here was going to be extremely important because right now basically what we're doing at the point is our starting 4 man goes back in as the point guard. It's the way that it is. It's the way that it is.
So I don't think there's any question that we had to make sure that we had more guard play. Last year we basically had six guys at any given point that you could put in the backcourt. Right now, you know, we don't have as many, so I think those guys saw that that was a great opportunity.
I'll say again, these guys do a phenomenal, phenomenal job, and it's so important that you have a group of guys, and we've got point people, like I said, we've got point guards, but you're dealing with three people that are really three interchangeable point guards up here in the way that they facilitate, the way they cover for each other. It's really team recruiting. Somebody might be the point, somebody might have the relationship with this person, somebody might have the relationship with that person. But none of it works if they can't make them better. None of it works if they don't build true and real relationships. And none of it works if they don't communicate, and this staff does all that, and that's why it's ironic that Bennie has been up here with us, too, and we're playing them tomorrow night because we wouldn't have gotten this program back the way it was with the good people we've brought in here without what Bennie does, and we wouldn't be able to sustain it without what these guys are doing.
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