Indiana Basketball: 5 Early Storylines from Hoosiers' 2014 Recruiting Trail
Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean, pictured here at Cody Zeller's NBA draft declaration press conference, understands that such events can be just as beneficial as harmful.
While next season's team will miss Zeller's length and athletic ability, the sight of a coach sending multiple players to the Association early creates an impression with recruits. John Calipari's perpetual success at Kentucky is based on the evidence that he can send recruits to chase their professional dreams.
With both Zeller and Victor Oladipo going pro early this season, Crean is beginning to build his own NBA pipeline.
That can only aid his cause as he chases prospects for the class of 2014. Some interesting players are on the IU radar, so let's examine a few of the compelling narratives surrounding the Hoosiers' efforts.
All photos courtesy 247 Sports unless otherwise noted.
Pipeline to Australia?
Programs like St. Mary's and New Mexico have begun building successful teams with talents from the land down under. Australians have begun flocking to college basketball in impressive numbers, but not many have found their way into the Big Ten.
Indiana aims to change that with 6'5" wing Dante Exum. The star from the Australian Institute of Sport took an official visit to Indiana in January of this year, only days after a new recruiting rule went into effect that allows players to take such visits starting January 1 of their junior seasons.
Rivals ranks Exum in its top 20 overall, while ESPN and Scout barely list him among the top 20 shooting guards. Undoubtedly, his geographic isolation plays a part in some services being unwilling to go all-in on his ranking.
Exum has experience playing both guard positions and is a dangerous penetrator. His perimeter shot is considered his main (only?) weakness, which makes him roughly similar to several of IU's recent signees.
Indiana is still the only school Exum has visited, and that should be taken as an indicator of serious, sincere interest.
After all, it's a long haul from Canberra to any NCAA member institution. There's still time for schools like Louisville, Georgetown and LSU—all listed by various services as candidates for Exum's services—to make their pitches, but Tom Crean has already done the legwork to establish a relationship early.
Do Hoosiers Want Low-Post Bulk?
The Hoosiers have lacked a true earth-moving center for the entirety of Crean's tenure in Bloomington. Players such as Bobby Capobianco and Bawa Muniru were big bodies who didn't provide big production, and even Cody Zeller, for all his success, was routinely exposed as a player who couldn't push around opposing posts.
IU's recruiting targets for 2014 largely cling to this pattern, with the 6'9", 215-pound Goodluck Okonoboh considered the primary target among the centers Indiana is recruiting.
Chicago native Cliff Alexander (pictured) is a 6'8", 240-pound brute who would break that pattern. Despite his burly frame, he still has the athletic ability to keep up with IU's transition-heavy game if his conditioning remains on point.
Unfortunately for Hoosier fans who would love a big man capable of driving through traffic and decimating a backboard, IU appears to have fallen behind the likes of Kentucky and Michigan State.
ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep reports in this Insider piece that Alexander may end up as part of another mega-class, joining his Mac Irvin Fire teammate Jahlil Okafor and top-ranked point guard Tyus Jones.
How Well Can Blackmon Sell?
Shooting guard James Blackmon Jr. gave Indiana a verbal commitment before he even played a minute of high school ball. In the intervening three years, there have been very few, if any, signs of his desire to don cream and crimson waning.
During his summer league exploits, Blackmon has assumed a prominent position off the court as well: IU evangelist.
The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette's Sean Morrison reported that Blackmon has been working hard to bring his Spiece Indy Heat teammates Trevon Bluiett and JaQuan Lyle with him to Bloomington.
A 6'4" point guard, Lyle is a top-10 overall prospect. Bluiett is a top-50 overall prospect, one of the top 15 wing players in the 2014 class.
“He feels the most comfortable with us,” Bluiett said of Blackmon. “We’ve been playing together since eighth grade. There’s that chemistry there.”
If that chemistry is strong enough to pull all three to the same college, the Hoosiers should have one of America's most cohesive perimeter units by 2016 or so.
Can Hometown Ties Deliver?
As if James Blackmon, JaQuan Lyle and Dante Exum wouldn't provide enough backcourt talent, Indiana has made a scholarship offer to another top-40 shooting guard.
Dion Wiley, a 6'4" Maryland product who plays for Washington, DC-based AAU squad Team Takeover, received an offer from the Hoosiers last week, as reported by The Recruit Scoop's Alex Kline.
Takeover also boasts another IU target, guard Phil Booth, and has supplied Indiana well as of late. Victor Oladipo was a former member, as was 2013 signee Stanford Robinson.
Originally from Oxon Hill, Md., Wiley's hometown has Indiana ties as prominent as his team's. Former Hoosier guard Maurice Creek hails from Oxon Hill, as does assistant coach/recruiting coordinator Kenny Johnson. In addition, Johnson was a coach and executive with Team Takeover for six years before Crean hired him last May.
Wiley, who has offers from Florida, Georgetown and Miami, among many others, is said by 247 Sports to have a slight lean toward Maryland. Still, all the IU ties are hard to ignore. The Hoosiers may be a player to the very end of Wiley's recruitment.
Will Steve Alford Gum Up the Works?
Hoosier icon Steve Alford wasn't courting a lot of 5-star prospects at New Mexico. However, when he was introduced as the new coach at UCLA last month, he put himself on the radar in a major way.
Multiple recruits have both UCLA and Indiana on their lists, including Trevon Bluiett and California point guard Jordan McLaughlin. JaQuan Lyle added UCLA to his list after Alford's hiring, as Scout analyst Brian Snow reported.
Adding insult to injury, top-ranked power forward Trey Lyles—who decommitted from IU last August—has UCLA in his final six alongside schools like Duke, Kentucky and Louisville.
Indiana gave UCLA the biggest icon in its history, Hall of Fame coach John Wooden, but not many players have made the trip from the Hoosier State to the City of Angels. Alford clearly aims to change that and has no qualms about taking talent away from his alma mater.