We are mere days away from tipoff of the first game of the NBA Finals featuring the Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets.
At that time, three former Indiana Hoosiers will be at Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado: Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo and Thomas Bryant. All three were coached by Tom Crean, with the first two being taken in the same year in the NBA Lottery.
It was rather poetic that Zeller’s Heat were able to bamboozle Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla by employing a zone defense. A type of defense that Mazzulla definitely should have seen coming given that the Heat run it more than any other NBA team in quite some time.
The three are good representatives of that era of Indiana men’s basketball. Zeller and Oladipo were on what was probably the best, or at least highest-achieving, team in decades while Bryant was a high-end recruit from the latter few Crean teams.
Both Zeller and Bryant were five star recruits with NBA ceilings, a type of player that all but avoided Indiana between the careers of Romeo Langford and Jalen Hood-Schifino, but Oladipo was not.
Oladipo was an ESPN three-star who developed into a lottery pick, largely thanks to Crean. O.G. Anunoby, who won an NBA title with the Raptors in 2019, was also a three star who was since developed into one of the better defenders in the league.
Were it not for an ongoing string of injuries, there’s a pretty good chance Oladipo would be the best NBA player from the Hoosiers or the best career. Right now that’s probably a tie between him and Anunoby, particularly with the latter being a key contributor to a championship team.
Frankly, Zeller and Bryant aren’t likely to see a ton of minutes in the finals. Zeller is coming off of a 7-game series as his NBA career winds down and Bryant was a late addition to the Nuggets, who’ve steamrolled through the playoffs.
But one of them will get a ring no matter what.
Indiana experienced an NBA dropoff after Crean, who turned three stars into quality starters in the league and recruited five stars who had their eyes on a professional career in the future. No Hoosiers have even been drafted since Romeo Langford in 2019.
Yikes. Not great!
But that’ll change in under a month. Jalen Hood-Schifino will be a first round pick while Trayce Jackson-Davis will also hear his name called, though it could be outside the first round of the draft.
Indiana will likely add onto that list as well, with NBA potential in guys on next year’s roster like Kel’el Ware and Mackenzie Mgbako. The program is using Mike Woodson’s NBA past and connections to recruit and selling prospects on developing for the league.
The Hoosiers will continue sending players to the NBA in the years ahead, adding further rooting interest for fans when the playoffs come around.
For now, maybe Tom Crean will get a little shout-out during the broadcast. Maybe he’ll be at the arena! Though he’d probably try coaching his guys if he were courtside so that might not be the best idea.