Not too long ago, it seemed like a lock that James Blackmon Jr. would head to Kentucky. But in a press conference announcing his decision, Blackmon shocked most everyone when he announced that he was committing to Indiana.
Evan Daniels of Fox Sports broke the news, which Blackmon announced on ESPNU at halftime of Thursday night's game between Louisiana-Monroe and Troy:
James Blackmon is headed to Indiana.— Evan Daniels (@EvanDanielsFOX) November 1, 2013
Blackmon, who had been committed to play in Bloomington for three years, surprisingly reopened his recruitment in August. The 4-star guard, considered the 12th-best shooting guard in the nation by 247 Sports' composite rankings, was then bombarded with a series of offers coming from all across the college basketball landscape.
In the end, he settled on five finalists: Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Baylor and Connecticut. But as the process wore on, it became clear that it was a two-horse battle between Indiana and Kentucky. John Calipari himself is credited by 247 Sports with trying to close the deal with Blackmon, attempting to add another great player to his war chest of talent.
And heading into Thursday night, the expectation was that Calipari's wooing had won Blackmon over. Jeff Borzello of CBS Sports noted that 12 hours before his decision was announced, Blackmon was locked in to committing to Kentucky. He had visited the Indiana campus unofficially this past weekend—giving the Hoosiers the final word in his recruitment—but the situation seemed resolved.
Blackmon admitted to Justin Albers of AllHoosiers.com that he was very close to signing with Kentucky, but the draw of home allowed him to reaffirm his commitment:
Blackmon on Kentucky: "It was a close call. I almost went there. But I just felt like [Indiana] was where I needed to be." #iubb— Justin Albers (@Justin_Albers) November 1, 2013
The effect for Kentucky on the Class of 2014 recruiting trail is minimal. The Wildcats already landed a top shooting guard recruit in Devin Booker, who committed mere hours before Blackmon made his announcement. 247 Sports has Kentucky in second place behind only North Carolina, and it's become a yearly custom for Calipari to pull off late-period heroics.
Meanwhile, Indiana's sense of relief is palpable. In the running for many of the nation's best recruits, the Hoosiers have come up just short numerous times. Their only commits prior to Blackmon were 4-star shooting guard Robert Johnson and 3-star power forward Max Hoetzel.
Daniels noted that landing Blackmon alone helped vault Crean's class back inside the Top 20:
Blackmon is Indiana's third commitment in the 2014 class. They are now No. 17 in our 2014 recruiting class rankings.— Evan Daniels (@EvanDanielsFOX) November 1, 2013
A 6'3" combo guard with a consistent stroke beyond the arc, Blackmon should bring some instant scoring power for 2014-15. He can work as a primary ball-handler or coming off screens in catch-and-shoot situations, like a slightly less athletic version of former Hoosier Eric Gordon.
Because Blackmon doesn't possess elite lateral quickness, Crean will have to work on his defensive fundamentals if he hopes to get playing time in conference play.
Nonetheless, it's a massive coup for the program at a time when one was much-needed.
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