The story on Elston

Here’s what I wrote for Tuesday’s paper. I know some of you are subscribers, so this way you can give it a read. Pretty interesting story.


By the time the car pulled up to the stoplight at Denny’s on the corner of the 45/46 Bypass and Walnut, Derek Elston knew.

His mother Christina threw out the question innocently: “Well, what are you thinking?”

“I think I know where I’m going to play,” he said.

“Where?” she asked.

“Indiana,” he said. “I want to be part of that.”

Christina Elston looked back at her son, a 6-7 junior forward at Tipton High School who has become a highly-regarded prospect for the class of 2009.

All his life he’d wanted to go to North Carolina, where his father Darrell was a star shooting guard in the early 1970s. And recently he’d been wooed by Purdue, a school located only an hour away where many of his friends will go.

Now, here they were, not even a mile from Assembly Hall and not even five minutes removed from their visit with Indiana’s coaching staff, and her son was already sure.

“I thought he would toss it back and forth for a while,” Chris said Monday, after word of her son’s verbal pledge to the Hoosiers became public. “But I guess it was just meant to be. He was so pysched up.”

Elston is Indiana’s first verbal commitment for the class of 2009, and, according to his basketball mentors, he fits well with the program head coach Kelvin Sampson is trying to build.

“He’s willing to do the dirty work stuff, to make the tough plays,” said Travis Daugherty, the head coach at Tipton. “That’s not something you see out of a kid who is also as talented. That usually needs to be coached.”

“He’s a good defensive player and he’s versatile,” said David Hamilton, coach of the SYF Rising Stars AAU team. “And you can already see what Kelvin Sampson has accomplished with his teams, getting them to play tough and rebound and play defense. Derek fits into that.”

Elston averaged 14 points and 12 rebounds as a sophomore for a Tipton.

Daugherty compares Elston to current Indiana forward Lance Stemler because of his grittiness and ability to step out and hit shots. With the Rising Stars, Tipton has played in a motion offense that demands of him the ability to play anywhere on the floor.

“Obviously we have him down there banging with all the big guys,” Hamilton said. “But he has the ability to go out and shoot or to put the ball on the floor a bit.”

On his Saturday visit to Bloomington, Elston watched Indiana players hand out awards at the IU Mini Marathon and then had lunch with members of the coaching staff and team. In some ways, Elston represents the first recruiting success for Kelvin Sampson’s son Kellen, who is a graduate assistant with the Hoosiers. Both Elston and his mother said that Kellen made them feel welcome and at ease.

Following lunch Elston took a tour of campus. He stopped at the Kelley School of Business, where five representatives sat him down and sold him on the school.

Later, he was able to shoot around in Assembly Hall, underneath the five national championship banners. That’s when Kelvin Sampson made his pitch.

“I’m been told that I’m wanted before,” Elston said. “But he made me see where I would fit with this program. He said that he likes me because of my toughness, and that he’d rather have a player like me because of my toughness. He only wants players who are tough. That made me see that I could be a part of a school with so much tradition.”

Indiana was actually the first school to offer Elston a scholarship after identifying him as a target late in the recruiting process. Elston has been drawing interest since he was an eighth grader, but the Hoosiers came along after his sophomore season.

Assistant Jeff Meyer watched Elston during the first major AAU tournament of the year, the Real Deal on the Hill in Arkansas, in April. Then Elston came to Bloomington for a summer camp and played well again.

That’s when Indiana began sending more mail, a steady stream of it. And on each piece of mail the word “Indiana” in Elston’s address was underlined — often multiple times — just as a reminder.

Ultimately, the location of the school did play a factor for Elston. His parents will be able to drive two hours to see his games.

But what ultimately convinced him to choose Indiana instead of waiting for North Carolina — which showed some interest but was not ready to offer Elston — was a conversation he had with his father.

“I’d always thought that I needed to prove to my dad that I could be as good or better than he was, and that if I didn’t end up at North Carolina I’d be letting him down,” Elston said. “But he told me that he wanted me to be able to be my own player, and he said you have to do what you have to do. For him to tell me that really helped me look for the right situation. Indiana is a perfect fit.”


  1. Sounds like a good kid, good player, and will be a positive add for IU in 2009. Chris, great article, I like the part about the coaches putting multiple underlines under the word Indiana in his address. Nice way to get Indiana players to stay in state.

    Now for my bi*ch. We should not be recruiting this kid yet. The NCAA is flawed in allowing schools to chase kids from the time they are in 8th grade. Most kids have to choose their sport in middle school. They multi-sport high school athlete is going to vanish in the next 10 years. Kids in middle school have top spend their off season playing AAU teams, traveling all over the country to play basketball in hopes that they will get noticed by a major program. Parent’s, coaches, and fans of these big time college programs need to go after the NCAA, and allow these kids to be kids, to enjoy playing the game as a kid. Change the rules to where no college program can make any contact to a potential player until after the end of their junior year.

    Ok, I am done.

  2. we go..toughness..rebounder..defensive mind-set..and can step back and hit 3’ a 6’8″ junior..who may grow another inch or 2..good move for the program.

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