LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Al Durham Jr. and Justin Smith have been talking, or at least texting, almost daily for the past month.
That communication was set to culminate in their coming together this week as teammates at the Derby Festival Classic all-star game.
But the conversations that were once about their future together as members of the Indiana University men’s basketball team instead turned into whether there would be a future together, at least in Bloomington.
The firing of Tom Crean as the IU coach on March 16 turned what had been months, and in the case of Durham years, of certainty into turmoil.
“I’ve been committed for a while to Crean, so we developed a great relationship bond,” said Durham, the 6-foot-4 Lilburn, Ga. guard who committed to Indiana on Oct. 26, 2015. “They’re like family to me, everyone who was there, so we all keep in touch, but it was hard. Me just being there for (Crean), talking to him for two years straight, we had a connection I didn’t build with anbyody else. Him getting fired was tough.”
Smith didn’t commit to IU until late last September, but that didn’t make the change any less jarring.
“I was feeling good from about August until March, I was feeling good,” Smith said with a smile. “Then it was a little bit of a roller coaster this past month.
“… I considered asking for my release, but I wanted to see who the coach would be and meet the coach before I made any decisions.”
Late last week, new Indiana coach Archie Miller met with both players in person and earning their recommitment to be Hoosiers.
It only took a few minutes after the meeting for Durham to jump back in with both feet. What he heard only reinforced the background information he’d dug up on the new IU head coach.
“I did a lot of homework during that process,” Durham said. “When I found out he got hired, I did a lot of research. I looked at Dayton, I looked at his past coaching history, who he assisted for, where he went. I did a lot of research.
“… He didn’t waste any time. He let me know straight off the jump what it was, how he wanted me to play, let me know about his system, where I would fit in and grow as a person and develop as a player. It helped knowing who he was bringing in on the coaching staff and that was it really.”
Smith, who was the only IU commit not to ask for a release from his letter, simply kept his options open.
“I just kind of went into the meeting with a blank slate and trying to hear what he had to say and take in everything he was saying to try and make the best decision,” the 6-foot-7 forward from Lincolnshire, Ill., said. “It’s an uptempo style of play, get out in transition, push the ball, attack the basket, drive and kicks, lot of team movement, team basketball, move the ball around, that’s what attracted me.”
Both players have been in touch with the third member of Indiana’s 2017 class, Clifton Moore, who has requested a release for his letter of intent and met with Miller this past Sunday. Durham, for his part, is trying to keep the Hoosier trio intact.
“I spoke to Clif, and of course I’m trying to keep him on board and trying to bring him back to the Hoosiers,” Durham said. “I’m still waiting on him, but he has a long process to think about. I’m still in his ear for Indiana, but he still has to think about it. Hopefully he comes back.”
In the meantime, Smith and Durham will join forces for the Lightning squad on Saturday night, teaming up with a trio of Xavier commits, including former Southport guard Paul Scruggs, two Creighton commits, one each from Notre Dame and Kentucky and one undecided player in former IU target Mark Smith.