Indiana Basketball Recruiting: Breaking Down Hoosiers' Top Targets
The large screen behind Indiana coach Tom Crean in the above picture reads "experience." Unless, of course, the NCAA was trying to go very hip and "Xtreme" to court the kids and spelled it "xperience" intentionally.
Which we all highly doubt, I'm sure.
Either way, Crean has precious little "xperience" on the 2013-14 Hoosier team because his last two recruiting classes have been large ones. Only two scholarships are open for next season. One of those is already accounted for in the form of James Blackmon Jr., who verbally committed as a freshman.
Crean will undoubtedly keep trying for more than one player, anticipating the defections that have become routine for power programs throughout college basketball.
Several blue-chip prospects are still on the Hoosiers' radar. Read on for a look at nine of the best, presented in alphabetical order.
All photos courtesy 247 Sports unless otherwise noted.
Power Forward, 6'9", 240 lbs., Curie HS (Chicago, Ill.)
National Rankings: No. 4 247, No. 2 ESPN, No. 5 Rivals, No. 6 Scout
Latest List: Top 10 (Kansas, Michigan State, Kentucky, Louisville, Illinois, DePaul, Indiana, Memphis, Baylor, Arizona)
Cliff Alexander tweets at humblekid11. Occasionally, he reads more like angrykid11, especially when he has to deny reports that his top 10 list has a definite top three of Michigan State, Kentucky and Illinois.
Alexander's spring has opened eyes across America, with him proving capable of carrying his AAU team to victory even after injury befell his teammate, top-ranked prospect Jahlil Okafor. Okafor went down with an ankle injury at last month's EYBL session in Minneapolis, but Alexander produced a combined 47 points and 22 rebounds in two wins for Mac Irvin Fire.
Always a strong athlete with good agility and speed for his size, Alexander has begun developing a floor game. Jeremy Woo of Zagsblog, reporting from the Minneapolis session, noted his advanced post moves and a jump shot that extended out to three-point range.
Alexander is a game-changer in his own right, but programs truly salivate over the idea of pairing him with Okafor. Okafor has pared his list to the top eight, and six of them (Arizona, Baylor, Illinois, Kentucky, Kansas, Michigan State) are also in the mix for Alexander. The two would instantly form the best post duo in America.
NBC Sports College Basketball Talk writer Scott Phillips helped debunk the top-three talk when he tweeted about Alexander's fall travel plans:
Cliff Alexander informs me that he will return to Kansas for Midnight Madness and is planning official visits to Kansas and Arizona.— Scott Phillips (@sphillipshoops) June 24, 2013
Very little has been said recently to link Alexander with Indiana. The rumored top three, along with Kansas, appear to be the current leaders.
Power Forward, 6'7", 215 lbs., White Station HS (Memphis, Tenn.)
National Rankings: No. 22 247, No. 36 ESPN, No. 16 Rivals, No. 23 Scout
Latest List: 23 offers, including Baylor, Duke, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville
A former Baylor commit, Leron Black "rushed into" that decision, as he told the Memphis Commercial Appeal in January. "What I'm really gonna look at is, I'm gonna compare campuses and I'm just gonna see how the coaches are," Black said. "I wanna be at a school where the coaches are Christians like myself."
While some of the coaches now chasing Black are no doubt discussing their faith with him, what they're discussing with their assistants is the improvement in Black's game. His length and rebounding ability make him an attractive frontcourt prospect, but barring the addition of 20 pounds of muscle, his future will likely lie on the wing.
His solid mid-range game will serve him well in college, but to play small forward, Black would be well-served to extend his shooting range out to three-point range. His ballhandling is still considered a primary weakness, one that he won't be as able to hide by drifting to the post in college.
Black's high school and AAU point guard, Chris Chiozza, has committed to Florida, one of the only indications that any college has an advantage in the race for Black's signature. Black has singled out IU, UConn, Illinois, Florida and Baylor as schools making the biggest effort to land him. Aside from a "Most likely, yeah" he gave to Inside the Hall, Black has offered little indication of visit plans.
Small Forward, 6'5", 185 lbs., Park Tudor HS (Indianapolis, Ind.)
National Rankings: No. 46 247, No. 41 ESPN, No. 46 Rivals, No. 40 Scout
Latest List: 24 offers, including Butler, Michigan, Indiana, Purdue, UCLA
In a video interview with the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, Trevon Bluiett made the kind of statement that undoubtedly frustrates coaches everywhere. The four-star prospect indicated that he has yet to eliminate any of the schools that have made him offers, claiming to be considering a full 23 universities.
By the time he spoke to CBSSports.com's Jeff Borzello this week, another offer had landed, bringing the total to 24.
A capable and versatile scorer, Bluiett was compared in this ESPN Insider scouting report (subscription required) to former NBA guard John Bagley, a player who dominated at Boston College but always carried a couple of extra pounds that interfered with his conditioning.
If Bluiett can keep himself in 30-plus-minute shape, his all-around scoring ability will fit well into nearly any team's offense. ESPN does list Bluiett at 205 pounds, but the other services show 185. That weight loss bodes well for conditioning, but could also make posting up smaller guards less of a factor in his game.
Bluiett matched up well against Michigan signee and Indiana Mr. Basketball Zak Irvin in the state's Senior-Junior All-Star game earlier this month. Irvin outscored Bluiett 21-12, but a 247 Sports report noted that Irvin was primarily restricted to the perimeter game, unable to drive at will on Bluiett.
Indiana was the first of Bluiett's 24 offers to come in, and Borzello's interview singles out Michigan, Butler and the Hoosiers as the programs working Bluiett the hardest. UCLA is also an X-factor, with Steve Alford having hired Bluiett's high school coach, Ed Schilling, as an assistant.
Guard, 6'2", 181 lbs., Mt. St. Joseph HS (Baltimore, Md.)
National Rankings: No. 70 247, No. 81 ESPN, No. 76 Rivals, No. 63 Scout
Latest List: 14 offers including Indiana, Georgetown, Villanova, Maryland, Iowa
Baltimore guard Phil Booth has made his name as a slasher, but at 6'2", he appears built for the point in college. At the NBPA Top 100 camp in Charlottesville, Va., Booth spent much of his time with the ball in his hands orchestrating the offense.
A player who, by his own admission, isn't always aggressive enough on offense, a facilitator role may fit Booth well when he reaches the collegiate level. To fit the position, however, he'll need further work on his ballhandling and greater consistency on his shot.
Booth plays his AAU ball for Indiana assistant Kenny Johnson's former club, Team Takeover. His backcourt mate Dion Wiley, however, recently committed to Maryland. Further guard commitments, most recently four-star New Jersey prospect Jared Nickens, may have taken Booth out of consideration for the Terps.
Georgetown and Villanova may be the most likely destinations for Booth, with the Terp and Hoosier backcourts offering a lot of talented competition for minutes. Still, Booth is reportedly planning an official visit to Bloomington, so stay tuned.
Point Guard, 6'6", 186 lbs., Australian Institute of Sport (Canberra, NSW)
Rankings: No. 86 247, NR ESPN, No. 18 Rivals, NR Scout
Latest List: Multiple offers including Indiana, Georgetown, Vanderbilt, Boise State, LSU
An international man of mystery, Dante Exum is beginning to catch fire among top-level programs. The schools listed above are merely some whose offers have been reported. Others have yet to offer, but are beginning to approach Exum; names include Duke, Kentucky and Michigan.
Exum is a tremendous distributor with great speed and a willingness to play any role his team needs. Primarily a point guard in Australia, he spent much of his time playing off the ball at the Nike Hoop Summit in April. German point guard Dennis Schroeder handled most of the playmaking duties on Exum's World team.
With a frame that will allow him to play either guard spot, Exum lacks only the consistent outside shot. He's more than capable of getting to the basket and producing strong finishes, but defenders will play off and dare him to shoot the jumper until he proves he can hit it.
No school has done as much as Indiana to court Exum, and Bloomington is still the only campus that the Aussie has officially visited. However, reports of Kentucky's Kyle Wiltjer considering a transfer have launched a flurry of tweets from media and fans alike suggesting Exum would look good in Big Blue.
Shooting Guard, 6'4", 180 lbs., Aquinas HS (Augusta, Ga.)
National Rankings: No. 30 247, No. 33 ESPN, No. 26 Rivals, No. 60 Scout
Latest List: 24 offers including Indiana, Florida, Marquette, Louisville, Florida and UConn
Ahmed Hill is another guard who offers tantalizing versatility. Not only did he average nearly 30 points per game in his junior season of high school, but he's established himself in the spring circuit as a gifted passer. Occasional ballhandling lapses will be a point of improvement if he intends to play some point guard at the college level, but he's spent a lot of time on the ball for his AAU club Southern Stampede.
Like so many players with the ability to finish at the rim, Hill's perimeter shot has lagged behind. Turnovers and missed shots will plague the touted freshman, but Hill also possesses elite defensive length and quickness that will keep him on the court through all but the most dire offensive struggles.
Indiana was first to get down to Augusta for a visit, and Hill has named IU as the most likely destination for an official visit. Schools like Florida, Texas, North Carolina and Kansas are also among his leaders at the moment.
Hill has indicated in a CBSSports.com report that he's planning to trim his list, likely down to a manageable six. Indiana's chances of being among that group should be very good, but if the other aforementioned blue-blood programs are in the mix, all bets may be off.
Point Guard, 6'5", 185 lbs., Bosse HS (Evansville, Ind.)
National Rankings: No. 15 247, No. 22 ESPN, No. 17 Rivals, No. 12 Scout
Latest List: Final four (Florida, Indiana, Louisville, Tennessee) (Committed to Louisville Wednesday)
With the smallest list of any Hoosier target this side of James Blackmon, JaQuan Lyle's thought process has become a hot topic in the last week and change. Lyle has great things to say about each of the schools recruiting him, but a Louisville Courier-Journal report depicts a player with a special bond to the Hoosiers and Cardinals.
Skilled enough to play point guard but a strong enough scorer to compete on the wing, Lyle needs only to improve his three-point shot to become an all-conference performer at either backcourt position. Three of his four suitors either have entrenched point guards or touted recruits who will be expected to be starters before Lyle arrives, so his size and versatility will be precious gifts to his eventual coaches.
Lyle made his second visit in as many years to Tennessee's elite camp over last weekend, so Cuonzo Martin's club cannot be written off easily. The Vols may provide Lyle's best chance to play the point in college.
Point Guard, 6'0", 170 lbs., Etiwanda HS (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.)
National Rankings: No. 29 247, No. 18 ESPN, No. 33 Rivals, No. 24 Scout
Latest List: Final eight (USC, UCLA, San Diego State, Indiana, Gonzaga, Connecticut, Kansas, UNLV)
The diminutive Jordan McLaughlin is an unstoppable force off the dribble. Before this spring's NBPA Top 100 camp, that was considered his primary strength, with his point guard skills lagging behind.
At the camp, however, he displayed the ability to defer to elite talent, ranking among the camp's assist leaders. His quickness will make him a natural engine for an up-tempo offense, but his slight frame will need to add some muscle to finish as a penetrator in major college basketball.
McLaughlin told CBSSports.com that the schools closest to his California home—USC, UCLA, San Diego State and Gonzaga—are recruiting him the hardest. In an interview with the Kansas blog The Sliver, McLaughlin also listed SoCal native Jeff Withey's success in Lawrence as a major mark in the Jayhawks' favor.
As for the Hoosiers, they remain in the mix for McLaughlin, even though he would likely need to sit for a year behind Yogi Ferrell. The two appear to be highly similar players, with McLaughlin having a slightly stronger perimeter shot. Another extenuating circumstance would be redundancy with James Blackmon, another small scorer who may need point guard development at the college level.
Power Forward/Center, 6'10", 213 lbs., Wilbraham & Monson Academy (Wilbraham, Mass.)
National Rankings: No. 26 247, No. 19 ESPN, No. 34 Rivals, No. 37 Scout
Latest List: 16 offers including Indiana, Duke, Tennessee, UConn, Syracuse
Goodluck Okonoboh is a player with a lot of work to do offensively, but for every point he may cost his team on the offensive end, he'll save one on the defensive end. Often compared to Kentucky's Nerlens Noel, Okonoboh's offense is even more remedial than the underrated and underutilized Noel.
Packing a 7'2.5" wingspan, as measured at the Amar'e Stoudamire Skills Academy, Okonoboh's length, verticality and timing will make him a tremendous rim protector at the college level, similar to Kentucky's Nerlens Noel and Anthony Davis. He's also a capable enough offensive rebounder to get some points off the glass, relieving his team of the pressure of having to run offenses through him.
Indiana may need to make a priority of landing Okonoboh, since the Hoosiers have a severe lack of interior talent. Okonoboh's AAU teammate and close friend Noah Vonleh is already IU's best post player, and he's yet to play a game.
Duke has come in very recently, offering Okonoboh as a hedge in case it misses out on top-ranked Jahlil Okafor. Other than that, very little has been disclosed about Okonoboh's thought process, and Indiana should still be considered among the leaders for his services.