In the Cody Zeller commitment thread below, commenter Nofthsa noted the parallels between IU’s recruitment of Zeller and the recruitment of Jared Jeffries eleven years ago. Both Zeller and Jeffries are big men from southern Indiana. Both come from solid family backgrounds and are/were excellent students who present no character risk. Each was weighing a decision between IU and an elite basketball power from the state of North Carolina led by a coach who had won multiple national titles (for Jeffries, it was Duke and Mike Krzyzewski; for Zeller, of course, it was Roy Williams and North Carolina). There were some differences (in 1999, Duke was considered the favorite until the final day; for Zeller, IU has been the conventional wisdom pick for months), but the similarities are strong. Each was, in his own way, viewed as a lynchpin recruit for the IU program. The importance of Zeller, Crean’s first undisputed blue chip recruit from Indiana, is obvious, and it will become even more obvious if the likes of Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell follow Zeller to Bloomington. Yet, in November 1999, Jeffries was considered nearly as significant.
It’s hard to imagine, given what we’ve been through since then, but in 1999, we IU fans thought we were in the wilderness. We had lost in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament for five consecutive seasons; we were six seasons removed from our last Big Ten title; we had lost seven of our last nine games to Purdue, including three of four at Assembly Hall, and had been forced to endure the Boilermakers’ "three-Pete," three consecutive outright Big Ten championships from 1994-1996 (thankfully unaccompanied by any postseason accomplishments). IU was struggling in the recruiting department, losing in-state studs such as Jason Gardner, and losing to transfer even the blue chippers that we did land, most notoriously Luke Recker. For those of you who weren’t old enough to follow IU or weren’t IU fans in 1999, it’s hard to fully explain just how big a deal it was when Luke Recker transferred. Suffice it to say that as I sit here typing this post, even knowing that it was eleven years ago, that he was a good-but-not-great player, and that even his dagger against IU in the 2002 Big Ten Tournament was followed by IU’s run to the title game, I still have a knot in my stomach thinking about the fact that Luke Recker left Indiana. I still can’t believe it happened. Bob Knight’s support among the fanbase was slipping already, and the Recker departure shook even the most ardent Knight loyalists. Because of that, Jeffries was considered a key recruit, and like Zeller, he kept the basketball world in suspense until word of his choice leaked out just before his announcement.
At the time, the Jeffries courtship seemed to be a brave new world for recruiting. Just a few years earlier, a slim minority of basketball fans, those who were ardent enough to subscribe to print recruiting magazines, knew who the targets were and who the competition was, but for the most part, fans, even dedicated fans of high profile programs, found out the names of recruits when they read them in the newspaper. Local recruiting battles were publicized, but Andrae Patterson? Charlie Miller? Sounds good, sign them up! By 1999, all this had changed. I followed the Jeffries announcement by frantically hitting refresh on an Internet message board. In 1993, when Patterson and Miller signed, there really was no such thing, other than various bare-bones chat rooms. I still think the late-1990s division is the most significant in the history of college recruiting, but what struck be about the Zeller recruitment, and recruiting generally today, is just how much it has changed in the last decade. First, the proliferation of cheap video cameras gives much more publicity to such announcements. Within an hour, both major media outlets and bloggers without major overhead resources had posted video of the announcement. While Zeller himself hasn’t held himself out in this way, it’s possible to read the thoughts of many recruits, including Ferrell, on Twitter and Facebook. Perhaps it’s a sign that I’m getting old that I followed the announcement the same way as I did the Jeffries announcement: by frantically hitting refresh on a message board. For those inclined, there are many more ways than were available in 1999, which seemed very futuristic at the time.
Things worked out pretty well for Jeffries at IU. Jeffries didn’t know when he signed that he would never play for Bob Knight. Still, for all the drama of the early (and middle and late) Davis years, Jeffries led IU to its biggest win of the post-Knight era, the Sweet 16 win in 2002 over Duke, the runner-up for his services, and his college career ended in the NCAA championship game. We can only hope for the same for Zeller, and that he truly will be a transitional figure for IU basketball.