So here is Steve McClain, new to Indiana but not the coaching profession, seeking to make the kind of impact that will help boost the Hoosiers back to national relevance.
Yes, some of that will involve how well he works with the players, particularly the big guys; how much he helps improve the defense, a specialty of his; how much he improves the coaching staff.
But perhaps the biggest key is what McClain can do for recruiting. He recruited nationally during his nine years at Wyoming, and had success in getting Chicago guards to come west, among other things. He’s been in the profession for 28 years. He knows how to get things done.
Now McClain is at IU, a traditional powerhouse, and if the power has short-circuited the last couple of years because of NCAA sanctions and a start-from-scratch reality, it can be short-lived with the right kind of recruiting. That means good players, tough-minded players, players who thrive on the court and in the classroom, players upon which the Hoosier tradition was built.
Can McClain help land those kinds of players? That’s the million-dollar question. Can he help sway in-state players to ignore overtures from Kentucky and Louisville and Ohio State and Michigan State and, of course, Purdue and now Butler? It’s a challenge McClain insists he’s ready for.
“It’s not like nobody is coming into the state to recruit them,” he said. “That’s the fun part. As Coach (Tom Crean) says, I’m not real good at taking no. I won’t take no. We’ll stay till the end. That’s the competitive part I enjoy. A lot of guys don’t. I do.”
McClain will compete without previous experience in recruiting state of Indiana players. Is that a problem? Let’s consider the interaction of McClain and Crean at a recent press conference.
“I’ve never been in a job where you have (high school) players like you have at Indiana,” McClain said. “I’m looking forward that I don’t have to get on a plane. I get tired of that…”
“You’re still getting on a plane,” Crean said with a smile.
“At the end of the day,” McClain said, “it’s about relationships. Do people trust you? Have you done right by the kids you have recruited? One thing I can fall back on is if a guy wants to check me out, I can give five other coaches to call."
Some fans are unhappy that many of the best in-state players are going somewhere besides Bloomington, but there's a lot of talent coming up through the state in the next few years and IU has to get its share. The recruiting competition will be fierce, which would make the success so much more rewarding.
“It’s so much fun to do this in this state because the basketball is the best," McClain said. "The high school coaches are great coaches. There’s such a dynamic here.”
McClain faces that dynamic because of his long-time friendship with Cream.
“It started with us watching each other,” McClain said. “I go back to when he was an assistant coach at Western Kentucky and I was the assistant at Hutchinson. People who work and have a passion for what they do tend to be around each other. When Coach called about the job, there was no hesitation. It was an opportunity to grown and learn.”
Opportunity, of course, has to lead to success, and the sooner the better.