So here is forward Cody Zeller, looking to make a college choice and three questions looms over the in-state recruiting scene like Godzilla:
Can Indiana coach Tom Crean get him?
Is Purdue coach Matt Painter the forgotten wild card amidst Butler mania?
Why won’t Ohio State coach Thad Matta stay out of the state of Indiana? Raid Pennsylvania or Delaware or, say, the Buckeye state? Leave the Hoosiers alone.
Sorry. It’s just that every time Matta crosses over the border, some high-profile prep superstar seems to windup in Columbus. From Greg Oden to Mike Conley to DeShaun Thomas, Matta makes his Indiana mark, a testament to his recruiting skill and state connections from his Butler days.
Of course, nobody has made a bigger mark the last couple of weeks than Butler coach Brad Stevens. He just signed a 12-year extension for an undisclosed amount of money in the wake of the Bulldogs’ national runner-up finish. He already was making about $750,000 a year, so it’s safe to say he’s now a million-dollar-plus-a-year man. It’s also safe to say that Oregon, which contacted him three times this week, would have paid a lot more.
Stevens, just like Gonzaga’s Mark Few, values job-and-life quality over higher-profile opportunity.
Stevens may not be the charismatic recruiter that, say, John Calipari is, but he’s a strong talent evaluator who targets players who fit the Butler system and academic standards. Plus, he’s won 89 games in three seasons, the fastest start in NCAA history. In-state players looking for prime-time college opportunity are likely to give the Bulldogs more consideration.
That’s a long way of saying he has targeted Zeller and Zeller, according to the Indy Star, is impressed, although not surprised.
Zeller is one of the top players in the nation. Rivals.com has him at No. 35 in the Class of 2011. He’s No. 4 in the state (once again the in-state talent is impressive) behind Indianapolis Pike’s Marquis Teague (No. 2 nationally), Lawrence North’s Michael Chandler (No. 10) and Gary Wallace’s Branden Dawson (No. 16). Just about every top program in the country has offered Zeller a scholarship, including Indiana, Purdue, Butler, Notre Dame, Florida and, yes, Ohio State.
Like most top-caliber recruits, Zeller figures to cut his list to five by the end of the summer and make a decision well before the November signing period.
Purdue's Painter has thrived by recruiting in-state talent (13 of the 17 players on the roster were from Indiana this season, as are three of the four incoming recruits). The Boilers' success (four straight NCAA tourneys, two straight Sweet 16 appearances) will be hard for Zeller to ignore.
So where are the Hoosiers in all of this? Crean continues to make his pitch about being part of restoring the program to greatness. Zeller would get all the playing time his performance and effort would warrant. Plus, he’d get to play in the Big Ten and practice in IU’s brand new Cook Hall, also known the mother of all practice facilities.
While some bad-mouth Crean’s recruiting (will he ever again sign a big guy?), the fact remains he made his reputation as an outstanding recruiter. He’ll eventually get the talent to where it needs to be.
Hey, if you believe the rumors, Zeller’s older brother Tyler, now at North Carolina, might transfer to IU to give Crean the impact big guys he needs to really get the program rolling. If a transfer does happen, it likely would be within a month.
Rumor, of course, isn’t fact. But it does give Hoosier fans something huge in this month of Butler glory: