By NCAA rule, college teams are allowed to hold one press conference to announce their signing classes. It was important to IU coach Tom Crean that his entire coaching staff be present for the press conference, and it took just short of a month from the first day of the early signing period to make that happen, but Thursday Indiana finally discussed its celebrated class of 2013.
Crean’s assessments of each player follow.
Crean on Devin Davis: “He really has tremendous athleticism. Plays with great energy. It’s fun to watch him do the things he’s capable of doing, that he’s stayed injury free. Can get to the basket, an go coast-to-coast with the ball, can score on both sides of the rim. Can be a pretty good shooter, notwithstanding the eight free throws he missed a couple of weeks ago in a game. He can be a good shooter, we feel, We think he can be an outstanding defender. He kind of epitomizes versatility. There’s a multi-dimensional ability he has on both sides of the floor, we think.
Crean on Collin Hartman: “Collin Hartman brings something that we’re really going to need based on the fact of who we’re losing in this class, and that’s outside shooting ability. The first thing that grabs you about Collin is his ability to make outside shots. The more you watch him — and we were able to see this from his ninth grade year on — he’s got a tremendous court sense — he can really pass the ball. He can read situations. He can find cutters. Very, very intelligent player. Again, as he remains injury free, his skills continue to flourish. We feel like in the state of Indiana right there, when they committed, we ended up with two of the best guys in this state for what we wanna do, for how we wanna play and how we wanna run the program here. … Collin has got a chance to spread the defense right away for us when he gets here. The outside shooting like I mentioned will be important, but his ability to pass the ball, he’s got some similarities to Will (Sheehey), they both have different strengths. Collin comes in as more of a polished shooter, where Will was maybe just a little bit better without the ball, but both of them have that ability to make everybody else better, not only with their offense, but their ability to cut and move and pass.” (Editor’s Note: I think Crean realizes that Hartman has not remained injury free (two major concussions this year) I think he means when he does he gets better at a high rate).
Crean on Luke Fischer: “When you really want to draw up somebody that really fits what you want to do on a high level on the inside because he’s a big basketball player, you really don’t have to look much further than Cody (Zeller). We get a chance to see that every day. The comparisons that I would give Luke to Cody are this. Their approach is very, very similar. Their demeanor. Their ability to figure things out and not get rattled is very, very similar. I would say at the same age, there’s a somewhat similar skill set. Now until we coach Luke day after day, we won’t know exactly where that stands. Those are my comparisons with Cody, because they do relatively play the same type of position. Luke is a basketball player. Luke is a 7-foot basketball player. He can play with his back to the basket. he can play facing up. He hasn’t lost since his sophomore year (in high school basketball). He’s won in the summer time. We’re excited about him. right now on this team. He’s done a great job of being the focal point, which is hard to be the focal point of the other team’s defense and at the same time having to be responsible to help everybody else out. I think that’s got some Cody similarities as well. Because obviously, you can go to Cody, and you can play through Cody. Luke is learning to do that. I love when I hear that he’s trying to pattern things that he does after Cody. I think any young player would be trying to pattern some of the things that Cody does, especially with his ability to run end to end, run the floor. Pass the ball, all those kinds of things. Luke brings that, and again, extremely well-coached judging by the fact they won the state championship last year.
Crean on Stanford Robinson: “Stanford Robinson is somebody that we’d paid attention to in the past. Shortly after we hired Kenny, that became a priority, because I think we became a place that he saw himself. We always saw some Victor (Oladipo) in him, and I say Victor in the sense of the character, some charisma, a happy person, trying to make other people better. Those things really, really matter before you ever get to the basketball. You’ve gotta have a certain amount of talent, or it can’t even be in the consideration stage, but once that talent is there and you see all those other intangibles and qualifications that really separate people, Stan has that. And this summer, he was fantastic in the sense of the way he played with both hands. His ability to go end to end, rim to rim. His 3-point shooting continues to improve. He did a great job at Paul VI. Now he’s doing a very good job at Findlay inside of some of the best competition that you’re gonna face in the country, the big games coming up. Passing the ball well, very, very hungry to be a great player and very introspective always wanting to improve. We’re excited about the upside of him and his ability to have that versatility on both ends and to play end-to-end and play in a fast-paced game is going to help him when he gets here.”
Crean on Troy Williams: “When we found out that we had an opportunity to recruit him, when his recruiting changed in the late spring, early summer and it became apparent that there was a small window to get in, and Kenny did a fantastic job, our entire staff did a great job of really pin-pointing, ‘OK, these are the guys that would really fit us. What if we had a chance to recruit him?’ That window kept getting bigger, and we just kept staying after it. There was a guy that we were already a fan of. Once we were able to recruit him and see how he would fit, we couldn’t have drawn it up much better. He is a cross — we’ve said this multiple times — he’s a cross between Will and Victor. … When you combine the height, when you combine the athleticism, when you combine the incredible leaping ability, the explosion, the ability to run end to end. I think we’re gonna be great for Troy, because we’re gonna help him get much better in the half court. We’re gonna help him get much better in ball screens, become a much more confident shooter. But what he brings to this table when it comes to energy, edge, up-and-down the floor, ability to offensive rebound at his size, those are crucial things. To be a great basketball team — and we’re harping on it daily in here — you’ve got to have great wing rebounding, guard rebounding. Guard rebounds on the defensive end lead to baskets. Offensive rebounding for your wings give you a real edge. We think Troy will bring that. He’s another guy that has had really good success in high school, then wanted to go challenge himself against the best in the country at one of the best places you could possibly go. Whether it be his uncle Boo Williams, his aunt Terri Williams-Flournoy who coaches at Auburn, his grandmother, his mother or now Steve Smith, he has been well-coached. He’s going to be well-prepared coming in here. It’s exciting to see him. He’s a stat-sheet stuffer without really understanding just yet how to do all that. As his ability to read defenses and play in that half-court improve, he’ll be tremendous.”
Crean on Noah Vonleh: “Noah is someone that’s a dream recruit in this sense. To have somebody that is that humble, that is that grounded and that talented at that young of an age, to have an opportunity to not only recruit him, but to sign him, you can’t expect that. You can’t go into a recruiting time period and think that you’re gonna be able to get somebody like that. The stars were aligned for us. Again, this staff did a great job. Kenny spearheaded that. Staff did a fantastic job of getting to know him good. We really identified him that, if we can recruit him and it’s for a year later, hey, that’s fine, because that’s exactly the kind of player you want to have in the program, because the upside is just enormous. We saw that through the summer. As talented and skilled as he is, the upside, it’s hard to imagine it. He’s got incredible length. I think he’s 6-8 with a 7-4 1/2 wingspan. It just fits what we’re trying to do with that length and versatility in our program right now to have a guy like that. He’s incredibly unselfish. We just saw this a week ago. They can give him the ball at the top of the key in a 1-4, 1-2-2 situation and he just delivers the ball. He’s like Cody in the sense that he doesn’t look for his offense enough. Not nearly enough. He’s another one of those young guys that we’ve got here that I think is untapped in the sense that they have no idea how good they can be. It’s our job and their teammates job to pull that out of them. Noah, again, the humbleness, the desire to get better, the desire to learn. When you use the term sponge, I’ve learned not to use that term lightly … he is, he’s a sponge. He has high goals. He’s very confident. Yet there’s not an entitlement, there’s not an enablement, he’s not wired to think it’s supposed to happen overnight. He knows it’s a process. We’re fortunate to have him.”
Crean was also asked about a number of different topics involved in the class. Some of his responses follow.
Crean was asked how much being No. 1 opened doors in the class: “No question. No question it did. I think we can go back to the Kentucky game. There’s no question that had a huge value nationally for us. I think the Ohio State game. I think the fact that we went into the NCAA Tournament, all of those things helped. There’s no question that Kentucky got people’s attention. The game in here in December got people’s attention. Fortunately we were able to hold that attention, even when we didn’t know we were holding it, because there had been more comments made, but there’s no question that the projections of the summer time and being No. 1 that that played into it. People want to go where they’re gonna have a chance to get notoriety, where they’re gonna win. But they really want to go where there’s gonna be tradition. When they get in here and they see this, they see the tradition. They may not always know what tradition is. I shouldn’t say we fight it, we deal with that with other schools as well, but they get in here and they see that it’s real. I think that’s huge. Again, all of these coaches, they are great recruiters, because they are great coaches. It’s one thing to talk on the phone to a guy and text message and e-mail and tell him a bunch of things. But if those kids get in here and they watch 15-20 minutes of practice and they don’t see it, they’re the most perceptive smart people around. You’re gonna lose them. It’s one thing for somebody to be able to converse and talk. It’s a whole other thing for them to come in and see this really is happening. They really are developing players. That’s the kind of staff we have.”
On whether or not the Big Ten expansion helped recruiting on the east coast: “I don’t think the expansion had anything to do with it. It might down the road. I think it does for the future. We knew about the expansion when you did. It’s not like we had any in house knowledge of that. I don’t think that there’s any question that we’ve always appreciated the East. After being in the Big East Conference like I was with these guys. Steve (McClain’s) been a national program guy where he’s coached. He didn’t have an airport within 2 1/2 hours of Laramie, Wyoming. He had to go somewhere. He wasn’t just gonna go there. You gotta get people in. Tim (Buckley) has done a majority of what he’s done in the Midwest, but he’s respected nationally. There’s no question about it. Kenny coming in with what he knew in his base — but again, Kenny could be the nicest guy in the world or the sharpest coach around, but people believe in Kenny, and we believe in him. Kenny being here, that believability is there. You’re not fooling young people. They see it. We’ve always, from Day 1 of the job, April 2, 2008, said we’re starting inside out (in-state and out) and we’ve never wavered. Where would this program be without Jordan Hulls and Derek Elston, and getting Jordan to stay at home? .. We’ve always tried to start inside out, but with that being said, it’s not necessarily where you go, it’s who fits. We went to Florida to get Will, we went to Maryland to get Victor, those two fit extremely well. Christian from Birmingham. Maurice Creek from Maryland. They all fit. It’s not as much the national reach as it is about who fits your program.”
On what this recruiting cycle taught the team about how it’s viewed nationally: “My opinion would be that we’ve never felt it like this in the year’s past. We felt it, because we were selling Indiana as not only the state of Indiana, Big Ten, but as a national program, a five-time national championship winner, eight Final Fours. We were selling that. We were on television all the time, but I’m not sure it was being sold that way. The one thing this program has done, it’s had to earn its way back on everything. It’s had to earn his way back on CBS, and ESPN stuck with us through certain period of time, but this is gonna be our first gameday. The opportunities come because you win, and you never apologize for what you earn. This program has earned the right again to be able to really go anywhere. Geography wise is not nearly as important as are they gonna come here and get a great education, fit into the program, get better, have a chance to win, get all of those things that they want. Now it’s just more apparent nationally that that can and will happen at Indiana.”
Tim Buckley also chimed in on that topic: “I would say that now everybody is able to see what our product is. Before we used to have to describe it and what it was gonna look like. Then I think the other thing that is such a key component, especially where coach is concerned, everybody graduates that comes through the program. Now more and more of them are graduating early. That’s obviously very important to family and parents. But also the second-contract guys in the NBA (that Crean produced at Marquette.) Some guys just want to get to the NBA and if that’s the case, that doesn’t mean you’re gonna last. His guys have lasted in the NBA. They’ve made it when maybe they were looked at as underdogs. I think the player development is obviously there. I think it’s showing with our Indiana guys as well.”
Crean, on the development of players such as Oladipo and Sheehey who were underrecruited: “It helps a great deal. Some of the people who rank players for a living, they’re some of my closest friends, good friends. I read it non-stop, but we don’t make our decisions on it. It’s part of the process. It’s part of the tools that are available, so to speak. Because when we signed Dwyane Wade when Tim and I were at Marquette, he was in one top 100 by the end of the year. Two at the most. Seventh in the state for Mr. Basketball (in Illinois), you always go back to that. Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. You recruit that way. Sometimes that hard for your fanbase to see that, but you’ve gotta stay true to that and we do. But the other thing we did this year, (graduate assistant) Seth Cooper did a great study. He went back through the last 12 years. He found out that only 28 percent of the consensus top 100 had ever played at least one NBA game. You start selling that the rankings and the Top 100s and all of those things matter absolutely zero when it comes to the next level. They may track you earlier because you’re ranked. But it doesn’t have anything to do with where you get picked and who you play for and how long you play for. I truly believe Victor and Will are going to play in the NBA for a long time and they were in the 130s to 140s. What we were able to do to go back for the track record. Some of the guys we had at Marquette, six of those nine played in the NBA. We’re gonna help you develop. Once you get here, it’s a clean slate no matter what. No matter what. The ranking doesn’t help you win a game or lose a game. It doesn’t carry you to the next practice. Sometimes it’s a burden. But getting better daily, and having a plan to get better daily and absorbing what it means to get better daily, that’s what we’re trying to do at a high level.”
On what makes him confident that the scholarship crunch will work itself out: “That’s all part of the stuff that goes on in the program as far as being able to project, look ahead, and at the same time, have a Plan A, a Plan B, a Plan C. We just have those. That’s just the way that it is. It’s always like that. It’s rarely ever going to be public, but I could go to the stock line, is it always works itself out, and it does. It’s not like we just throw things out on a whim. We’re certainly not trying to stockpile for stockpiling sake. We’re trying to make sure we keep building the program and growing the program at a high level, at the level that it needs to be grown at.”
On whether he’s concerned that the players who are considering leaving early for the NBA would use the scholarship crunch as part of their decision making process: “No. Oh no no. I don’t think so. No. Believe me, if a guy is good enough to go and it’s a no-brainer type situation, there will be nobody here standing in anybody’s way. And at the same time, if somebody in the same realm wanted to be able to come back, there would be nobody there saying no.”
(Dustin’s Note: I should’ve gone one more follow-up with this. My point wasn’t that I think someone like Cody Zeller or Victor Oladipo would be concerned that they would lose their scholarship if they decided to come back next year. My point was that I was asking if he was concerned those players might leave early even if it wasn’t in their best interest out of concern for players who might lose their opportunity if they decided to stay. Shortcoming on my part.)