By now you know that James Blackmon Jr. has committed to play basketball at Indiana even though he’s barely started his freshman academic year at Fort Wayne Bishop Luers High School.
That means IU coach Tom Crean offered a scholarship when Blackmon was, in essence, an eighth grader.
Is that too soon?
Is it a gamble?
For most players, that’s too early to tell if they have Big Ten-caliber talent, work ethic, desire and maturity, on the court and in the classroom. They need a couple of years in high school to develop. Case in point, Hamilton Southeastern’s Gary Harris, a Class of 2012 standout who made a big jump last spring and summer.
For some players, for special players, you know they’re going to be good. LeBron James was probably Big Ten ready at age 10. Alan Henderson showed Big Ten-caliber talent before high school. So did former Bishop Luers standout Deshaun Thomas, now a freshman at Ohio State.
Crean likely projects the 6-2 Blackmon will be an instant-impact player as a college freshman, so why wait. He knows Blackmon comes from a quality high school program. The same is true of Blackmon’s Spiece Indy Ice team. Blackmon’s father, James Sr., was a high school All-America out of Marion who thrived at Kentucky and was a fifth-round NBA draft choice of New Jersey, so talent runs in the family.
The younger Blackmon can shoot and handle the ball. As a coach’s son, he’s fundamentally sound and has a strong basketball IQ. He’s projected as a top-10 guy in his Class of 2014. His father thinks he could grow another couple of inches.
Father and son still play one-on-one games, with James Sr. having a one-inch height advantage.
“I have to get really physical to beat him,” the elder Blackmon said. “In a game most of the time they would call those fouls, but if I don’t play that way, I’m pretty much (out-gunned) against him.”
In the highly competitive world of recruiting, you’d better know who the good young players are. Crean has said players become prospects once they become seventh graders, although coaches can’t start actively recruiting them until their sophomore years.
Crean began an emphasis on evaluating young players almost from the first day he arrived in Bloomington. While other college coaches were looking at Blackmon, Crean was the only one to offer a scholarship.
That paid off with a commitment. We’ll know in about five years if it will pay off in performance.
Was it a gamble? Perhaps, but a smart one.