Amidst basketball recruiting gloom (more on this in a moment), comes a bit of Cream ‘n Crimson athletic glory -– Indiana ranks 21st in the Learfield Sports Director’s Cup Division I Winter standings, which measures the overall athletic department’s excellence. That is 21st, by the way, out of 209 programs being rated.
The Hoosiers got a boost from the men’s track program which finished sixth nationally behind high jump champ Derek Drouin, the women’s swimming and diving program, which finished 10th behind 200 backstroke champ Kate Fesenko, wrestling team, which took 21st behind the third-place finish of 125-pounder Angel Escobedo and the women’s track program’s 28th-place showing.
This, of course, doesn’t take away the sting from the 1-2 basketball recruiting punch of losing Moses Abraham to Georgetown and Matt Carlino to the whims of teenage male angst. Thus you have some fans calling for coach Tom Crean to go, which shows they don’t understand how much damage Kelvin Sampson caused, both by some of the phone calls he made and some (not all) of the players he signed.
All indications are Crean is finished with Carlino even if the guard changes his mind and wants to return –- which is extremely unlikely. It’s important for Crean to get players who are the right fit for his program and that includes rock solid commitment. You want guys, to borrow a cliché, you can go to war with, not guys who might bolt. Carlino didn’t have that commitment, perhaps because he committed too soon. It happens all the time in recruiting. Carlino has to know that Crean and Indiana are the right fit for him, as well. Apparently, he no longer felt they were.
One thing Abraham and Carlino had in common was neither were from the state of Indiana. Neither had that deep-rooted understanding of IU’s tradition that comes from those born and raised here.
Of course, if the unprecedented losing continues, the tradition will be as relevant to today’s kids as Lawrence Welk, which is why the Hoosiers need to return to their winning ways as soon as possible. Next year would be really, really good.
Crean is working the in-state connection hard, but he has plenty of competition from Purdue’s Matt Painter, Louisville’s Rick Pitino, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Ohio State’s Thad Matta, Notre Dame’s Mike Brey and, yes, the nuclear bomb of coaching threats right now, Coach Calipari.
Still, if Crean is to thrive at IU, he has to get the state’s best players. Those are the guys you can go to war with and no better example of that right now is Purdue’s Chris Kramer, who is from Huntington North. He wasn’t the most talented basketball player coming out of high school, but he was a tough-minded three-sport standout who knew how to win. The Boilers have certainly reaped the benefits.
Recruiting is all about relationships and no one has exploited the Hoosiers’ poor coaching choices better than Painter. He has made huge in-state in-roads with the best players, and while he doesn’t get everyone he wants (Butler is getting some now), he gets enough to make the Boilers a national player for the foreseeable future.
Yes, some can blame IU’s woes on the firing of Bob Knight and the hiring of Mike Davis, but the real blunder came when Davis left. The one coach Painter was most concerned about IU hiring was Steve Alford, who had the connections and background to draw the best in-state talent. Indiana passed on Alford (who has now taken New Mexico to unprecedented heights), settled on Sampson and left Crean with a mess.
Crean will clean it up, by the way. It will get better. He is too good a coach and recruiter; he understands too well the tradition of Indiana basketball. The key word to remember, is PATIENCE.