Listen, Tom Crean has been very very successful on the recruiting trail since his arrival in Bloomington. He's put together class after class of top tier talent and more than likely between James Blackmon and Robert Johnson, he's going to have his fourth straight class with a McDonald's All-American in it. But is James Blackmon's re-commitment to the Hoosiers his biggest win? The answer to that question is yes. Let's take a look why.
James Blackmon Jr. committed to Indiana along with one of his best friends in 2010 at the ripe age of 14 yrs old. This occurred when Indiana had crazy momentum, especially with in state talent. All the big named players wanted to come play for Indiana. At the time it was an easy and emotional choice to make. Then, Blackmon's buddy Trey Lyles pulled away from Indiana and had an ugly divorce in the process. Indiana fans were bad mouthing the Lyles' and the Lyles' were bad mouthing IU. James Blackmon Jr. was stuck in the middle of it while sitting on the bench with a torn ACL.
For anyone that has experienced a time in their life where their two friends are at each other's throats and you're stuck in the middle, this situation sucks. Rumors swirled of Blackmon wanting out of his Indiana commitment along with Lyles but his ACL held him back. Finally when he got healthy, he really started to blow up. We knew Blackmon was good when he committed but over the last year since recovering from his ACL injury he's proven he belongs in the same discussion as the elite players in his class. Obviously that's going to make it harder on you when you're still sitting on a decision from three years ago and never got to experience the thrill of being recruited like your buddy who backed out of his commitment is currently experiencing.
All of this culminated in a decommitment this August when it appeared Blackmon could play anywhere he wanted to. That's when UNC, Kansas, Michigan and most importantly his father's alma mater, Kentucky came calling. Three blue bloods and last year's national runner up all contacted him immediately to try and win his services. Out of respect for Indiana, the Blackmons promised to still give Indiana a serious look. How serious? At the time it appeared to be but a courtesy before he committed to UK.
In fact, for the next three months it was an all but foregone conclusion that Blackmon was going to be a wildcat. UK was trending up fast with a freshman class that will likely rival some of the best ever, the hype surrounding them has continued to grow. Meanwhile, Indiana and Tom Crean were getting blasted for failing to get by the Sweet 16 (yeah UK didn't even win a NIT game, but no one seems to notice that), were barely going to crack the top 25 in the preseason polls and were failing to land any big name target they went after sans Robert Johnson. The momentum of the two schools were on opposite ends of the spectrum.
All of Tom Crean's previous recruits came when the program was quite obviously trending up. Until last night, the trend of the program, at least in the short term, was quite uncertain. Crean hasn't had to recruit in an atmosphere like this. So what does Tom Crean do? He goes out, fights off the best of the best, and reels back in a commitment from a kid who had wavered on his decision just months prior. That's big time for Tom Crean. There isn't anyone out there that can honestly say that Crean gained Blackmon's trust only due to context or circumstance. The two best recruiters in the nation in Calipari and Bill Self showed heavy interest and in the end Crean won out.
For whatever flaws you think Tom Crean may have, this shows he's the right man for the job. He can keep the in-state kids home even in a crazy year where the odds and context are stacked against him. James Blackmon Jr. is his biggest win yet. Not Cody Zeller, not Noah Vonleh, not Kentucky in December of 2011 or a Sweet Sixteen appearance after being predicted to finish ninth in the conference, James Blackmon Jr. coming back to the fold is the highest rung for Crean to hang his hat.