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Indiana Basketball: Ranking the 5 Most Hyped Recruits in Hoosiers History

Scott HenryFeatured ColumnistMay 19, 2013

Indiana Basketball: Ranking the 5 Most Hyped Recruits in Hoosiers History

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    Every Indiana fan knows the ball-handler in this picture.

    His name is Calbert Cheaney, and he's only the school's—and Big Ten's—all-time scoring leader.

    When he was recruited, his class was considered one of the best of all time, but Cheaney was far from the jewel of the group. He was overshadowed by a pair of McDonald's All-Americans and another hyped prospect who arrived with some baggage.

    So, as we know, recruiting is a very inexact science. The excitement of landing a well-known prospect can often give way to profound disappointment, even anger when a player doesn't live up to his potential.

    The players in this list mostly played well in college, even if they didn't do so in an Indiana uniform. Still, they all found it hard to live up to the expectations that heralded their arrivals.

5. Lawrence Funderburke

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    We certainly weren't going to find many pictures of Funderburke in an Indiana uniform, because there weren't many taken. That happens to players who only suit up in six games at a school.

    Touted as one of the top high school players in America entering his senior year, he allowed that season to be derailed by a difficult relationship with his coach at Columbus' Wehrle High. Otherwise, he may have joined fellow Hoosier recruits Greg and Pat Graham on the McDonald's All-America team.

    History repeated itself when he struggled to get along with Bob Knight, to the point where Funderburke left school near Christmas. He allowed almost 12 points and seven rebounds in his handful of games, so productivity was not his major issue.

    Knight refused to release the forward to go to his preferred destination, the University of Kentucky. Funderburke pondered schools like Missouri, Tennessee and Cincinnati before finally defying Knight and enrolling at Big Ten rival Ohio State.

    Back home in Columbus, Funderburke excelled for new coach Randy Ayers. He averaged nearly 15 PPG over his three seasons and went on to a reasonable career as an NBA reserve with the Sacramento Kings.

    As mentioned in the intro, the 1989 Hoosier recruiting class was touted as one of the best ever. Funderburke's talent and the controversy that surrounded him made him the most talked-about member of the group when he arrived. That certainly didn't change when he left.

4. Jared Jeffries

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    Before Cody Zeller, there was Jared Jeffries. Jeffries' recruitment was almost as important to Bob Knight as Zeller's was to Tom Crean because the top-10 national recruit suited up for Bloomington North High School, right there in the Hoosiers' backyard.

    Jeffries didn't have a brother playing at an ACC powerhouse, but he was still seriously considering leaving town for Duke. The Philadelphia Inquirer underscored the difficulty of pulling Jeffries out of his hometown when it quoted Mike Krzyzewski in 2002:

    "I had to drive by [Indiana's] Assembly Hall to get to his house," Krzyzewski said. "I knew it was a stretch trying to recruit him, but I thought it was worth the try."

    Meanwhile, Knight's iron-fisted control of his program was beginning to show cracks, with a flurry of transfers from players like the late Neil Reed and Jason Collier, as well as Indiana native Luke Recker.

    Jeffries ended up being Knight's final McDonald's All-American recruit, joining so many other Mr. Basketball winners in suiting up for the Hoosiers. In the end, though, he never even played for "The General." Knight was fired before Jeffries' freshman season, replaced by assistant Mike Davis, who had been the primary recruiter responsible for courting Jeffries.

    As a sophomore, Jeffries helped lead the Hoosiers on a surprising run to the NCAA championship game, where he struggled to score only eight points in a loss to Maryland. Along the way, though, he carded 24 points and 15 rebounds to upset top-seeded Duke, making his original college decision look that much more prudent.

3. Cody Zeller

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    After Indiana's program cratered out from the violations of the Sampson era, Tom Crean needed a signature commitment to signal the Hoosiers' rebirth. He found it in Washington, Indiana, the seat of Daviess County.

    Cody Zeller was part of three state championships, winning one as an understudy to his brother Tyler, who went on to attend North Carolina. Like brothers Luke and Tyler, Cody won a Mr. Basketball honor and was named a McDonald's All-American.

    IU missed out on the first two, and Crean had to sweat through the idea of losing a potential state icon and program savior to the lure of joining his brother in Chapel Hill. True to his impish nature, Zeller's call to inform Crean of his decision was a mild prank in which Zeller led with the statement that he had to call the schools he was turning down.

    Zeller led Indiana to a 15-win improvement as a freshman, winning as many games as Crean's Hoosiers had in his first three seasons combined. While neither of his two seasons resulted in a national championship, as fans may have expected, he did start a string of three straight IU classes with a McDonald's All-American.

    That hadn't happened since Bob Knight pulled six such players in a five-year span from 1987 to 1991. Indiana is once again a cool place for top prospects to play, and Cody Zeller was the large vessel that broke the ice.

2. Eric Gordon

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    Eric Gordon exercised the teenager's prerogative to change his mind, and in the process, he honked off an entire state. That's all.

    Rated as the second-best prospect in the class of 2007 by Rivals, Gordon didn't like the mediocre direction the Indiana program was taking under Mike Davis. As a result, he gave a verbal commitment to Illinois, which had recently sent guards Deron Williams and Luther Head to the NBA.

    Once Kelvin Sampson took over at Indiana and hired assistant Jeff Meyer, who had coached Gordon's dad at Liberty University, the Gordon family began to entertain the thought of Eric suiting up down the road from his Indianapolis home.

    The eventual switch to IU did not go over well in Champaign, or anywhere else in the state of Illinois for that matter. Gordon's parents were pelted with ice, beads and obscenities when the Hoosiers played at the other Assembly Hall, a game in which Eric struggled with his shot until it mattered most. He carded 18 points after halftime, including a three-point bank shot that led to overtime.

    For the Hoosiers, Gordon finished his one season as a third-team All-American and IU reached the NCAA tournament. The Illini, not so much.

1. Damon Bailey

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    There can be no other choice.

    Damon Bailey was an eighth-grader in 1986, when then-IU coach Bob Knight was moved to hyperbole by watching him play. On page 232 of the best-selling book A Season on the Brink, John Feinstein quoted Knight as saying, "Damon Bailey is better than any guard we have right now. I don't mean potentially better, I mean better today."

    Sports Illustrated tabbed him as the nation's best high school freshman later that year, as he was just beginning his career at Bedford North Lawrence. By the time that career ended, Bailey was a McDonald's All-American, Indiana's Mr. Basketball, the state's all-time scoring leader and the consensus national player of the year. Oh, and a state champion.

    His career numbers at IU were solid: 13.2 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. Hardly living up to the legendary billing with which he entered college, but would that have even been possible under a coach like Knight?

    Bailey never played in an NBA game, but he got to be a strong producer for his state school, which would be good enough for most. All four of the Hoosier teams he played on made at least a Sweet 16, including the 1992 Final Four club, which softens the blow for fans who may remain disappointed in Bailey's individual contributions.

     

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