“With that being said, I will continue my education and basketball career at…” Romeo Langford then paused, looked around for a second or two, then slowly reached out with his left hand where there was a trio of hats: one for Vanderbilt, one for Indiana, and a Kansas cap. Langford reached for the area between the left (Vandy) and the middle (Indiana) hats, before slowly putting his hand over the Cream and Crimson cap, and started to deliberately move the hat up towards his head.
That was all the pro Indiana crowd needed, as they erupted in the stands surrounding Langford. The standing ovation lasted ten seconds. Twenty seconds. Thirty seconds. One minute. 2 minutes. As Hoosier nation let years of frustration turn into joy in New Albany on a sunny Monday night, Romeo let out a small smile, almost as a sense of relief.
While landing Romeo Langford is an incredible start on the recruiting trail for Archie Miller, he still has a long way to go to achieve the long standing success on the recruiting trail that Miller promised when he took the IU job last March. Just because Miller was able to land the first big fish in the talent rich area that is Indiana, does not mean he will be able to do so consistently. Just look at Indiana’s past two head coaches—Tom Crean and Kelvin Sampson—as prime examples.
October 13, 2006, will always be the highlight of the Kelvin Sampson era at Indiana. Sampson was getting ready to start his inaugural season as Indiana’s head coach, and IU was set to host Hoosier Hysteria on that Friday night. But like the 2017-18 Indiana season, the actual team and its first year head coach were just the supporting cast in a Hallmark film. The main attraction that night was the number 2 overall prospect of the 2007 class: Indianapolis native Eric Gordon. Merely hours after Gordon’s father Eric Sr. had told local media outlets that the former Illinois commit would wear cream and crimson in college, the younger Gordon received star treatment in Assembly Hall:
Sound familiar? Yeah. Thought so. Gordon was given basically the same treatment from the Hoosier fateful that Romeo Langford received not just in New Albany on Tuesday, but throughout his entire recruiting process. So why am I bringing up a recruitment from a decade ago today? Because look at the similarities. Sampson, like Miller, had very recently taken over the Indiana job and was looking to establish that IU would return to the prowess on the court and on the recruiting trail that the Hoosiers enjoyed in the prime of the Bob Knight era. Sampson saw best way to do that was to land the highly touted Gordon, who was by far the best player coming out of Indiana that year, just like Langford is this recruiting cycle. Sampson’s goal was to win a national title at IU, and getting Gordon was part of the plan to help achieve that. Chris Korman of the Bloomington Herald-Times put it best, when he wrote on November 5, 2006, “He took what many viewed as the first step toward that goal by signing highly-touted Indianapolis guard Eric Gordon.” The key words of that sentence are “first step.” Gordon was not the end all be all for Sampson, just like Langford is not for Miller. The challenge for Archie is that he must do what Sampson—and Crean—could not: keep landing the top prospects from the state.
Let’s focus on Crean for a moment. As we all know, Crean took over after Sampson left the IU program in shambles from NCAA violations. It took Crean a few years just to make the program respectable enough to where he could go after top talent. By the time fall of 2010 arrived, Crean and his staff were ready to sent a statement: sign big man Cody Zeller. The feeling around the program was that if the Hoosiers could land the Washington, Ind native, that it would signal to all in-state recruits that it would be “cool” to go to Indiana again. Crean got his wish when Zeller announced at the Hatchet house in front of media members that he would be a Hoosier. The momentum Crean would get from landing the top 15 prospect would catapult the Hoosiers back into national relevance both on the court and on the recruiting trail.
But Crean was unable to keep that momentum going. Whereas Sampson never got the chance to ride the wave that could have come from landing Gordon because he texted recruits to often, Crean had every chance in the world to keep landing in-state talent, but (for the most part) he whiffed. Other than Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr., Crean never landed another top tier in state prospect. Names such as Gary Harris (Michigan), Trey Lyles (Kentucky), Trevon Bluiett (Xavier) and Kyle Guy (Virginia) were all in-state prospects that Crean recruited but could not land. The lack of consistent recruiting in Indiana (as well as the loss to Syracuse in the 2013 Sweet 16) is what cost Crean his job last spring.
So yes, Archie Miller did an unbelievable job of coming way off the pace to land the top Indiana High School player since Damon Bailey. But it is what he will do now that will define his tenure at Indiana. Can he use the momentum from Romeo—and from the 2nd and 3rd best players in the state in Damezi Anderson and Robert Phinisee—heading to Bloomington into making the Hoosiers a major player for the top prospects in their home state? Or will this be another spark of light on the radar before fading back to irrelevance? That will be the real challenge for Archie Miller and the Hoosiers.