Being the head basketball coach at a school like Indiana is a polarizing job. When you're ranked #1, you're just doing your job. When you're not, the sky is falling and it's all your fault. In 2015, the trolls who want to #FIRECREAN have looked past all the positives that Tom Crean has developed this year, and instead choose to use Crean as a piñata for blame (Take it away, Spencer).
In Monday's weekly radio show with Don Fischer, one caller wasted no time and went straight for the attack by insinuating that Crean and his staff do not make a concerted effort to lock up in-state recruits. CTC took the comment in stride by responding with a safe, politically correct answer.
Crean: "We're going to continue to recruit Indiana. Don't worry about that." #iubb— Sam Beishuizen (@Sam_Beishuizen) February 24, 2015
This struck a nerve with me, because for all the gripes that people rightfully have with Crean (seriously, just wear pants that fit you one time, Tom), his recruiting abilities should not be one of them. So, in an effort for objectivity, I decided to take a deeper look at Tom Crean's recruiting and roster construction over the years and figure out whether this narrative has any legs or if it was simply me overreacting to the wind that develops in the Twitter echo chamber.
First, let's back up a bit and start with facts. Tom Crean is a good recruiter. That is not debatable. Not counting his first year at IU in 2008 when he had to sign pretty much anyone on campus that knew how to dribble a basketball (Looking at you, Mike Santa), Crean's recruiting classes have been ranked in the Top 10 twice and the Top 25 two additional times. The only years in which his classes were ranked lower than that, he landed Cody Zeller in 2011 (33rd ranked class) and diamonds in the rough in Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey in 2010 (61st ranked class). His most lauded class, 2012's "The Movement", has only produced one consistent producer in Yogi Ferrell. This class, which consisted of 3 Indiana kids all in the Top 100, never truly lived up to its hype.
What made that 2012 class resonate so well with fans before they even stepped on the court is because they represented everything fans wanted. There's a large sect of Hoosier Nation that projects its nostalgia onto these kids from Indiana. The role of "blue-collar kid who grew up idolizing the candy stripes and all it represents, who eventually goes on to become a star in Assembly Hall" is a fantasy that is envisioned for every possible recruit from the Hoosier state. But, in today's AAU and internet age, those kids simply don't exist anymore.
For example, when Cliff Alexander, a Chicago kid, chose Kansas over the in-state Illinois, not only did he choose to leave home, but he announced it in a hilariously cruel way.
Cliff said he made the decision because his teammates thought it would be funny. Now go watch the video below of the fan reaction to his decision. Try to tell me that Cliff felt that he owed ANYTHING to those poor, poor Illini fans because they were his in-state school. You can't. The roller coaster of emotions that the kid wearing orange up front goes through at the :29 second mark is something I will never wish on my worst of enemies.
Cliff is not an exception to the rule. Allegiances to in-state schools do not make sense anymore in this AAU era. The vast majority of these kids have been traveling to tournaments around the country for multiple AAU teams since they were 10 years old. It's the equivalent of you or I saying we will now exclusively eat at the hole-in-the-wall taco joint down the street when we've been eating at Chipotle around the country for just as long.
Back home in Indiana, however, Crean HAS landed most of the major names on the Indiana high school basketball scene. Starting with Zeller, who is rightfully credited with changing the tides of the program and helping to restore its reputation after the Sampson debacle, IU landed top in-state recruits in 2011 (Zeller), 2012 (Ferrell, Mosquera-Perea, Hollowell), 2013 (Devin Davis), and 2014 (Blackmon Jr.). The out of state prospects he landed to fill out his roster have been just as impressive, but more on that later.
Of course there have been misses. Losing out on Gary Harris to Michigan St. hurt, especially since he was exactly the type of player that would have complimented the 2012 B1G title-winning team so well. The Trey Lyles situation happened, but given the complexities of that case (Hi, Tom Lyles), I'm not sure how much blame you can really put on Crean and the coaching staff. Outside of those two, there haven't been any other major in-state misses that IU ever really stood a chance on.
Sure, watching Indy native D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera single-handedly kill IU while wearing a Georgetown uniform hurt, and seeing two kids with Indiana ties (Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary) help lead Michigan to a title-game run definitely felt weird. But is there anyone who can really say that Tom Crean hasn't put in enough effort with the kids in his own backyard?
This leads to my real question. Is it actually a big deal to lock up in-state talent? Each of Indiana's classes in the past 5 years has been solidified through finds from across the country. What would the program look like without Christian Watford, Oladipo, Sheehey, Noah Vonleh, and more recently, Troy Williams and Robert Johnson? While yes, it is a dangerous game to rely on out-of-state recruiting, it is also a new era, and this is how high-major recruiting works now.
Without the likes of out-of-state recruits, this team would be floundering near the bottom of the Big Ten. So while it would be nice to see an in-state guy like Caleb Swanigan in an IU uniform next year, the reality is that it's not going to happen. The real question is, though, does it matter?