Bloomington, Ind. – When the Hoosier coaching staff looked at Tipton's Derek Elston, they saw the type of player that's helped make the IU program so great over the years.
Sure there was the 6'8", 210-pound frame, the ability to play both inside and out, and the willingness to make the "dirty word" sort of plays on the defensive end. But IU Coach Kelvin Sampson and IU Assistant Jeff Meyer also saw a homegrown Hoosier who they thought fit perfectly into what they are trying to accomplish.
"One of the things (the IU staff) is trying really hard to do is to maintain that connection between what makes Indiana high school basketball so great and what makes IU basketball so great," said Tipton (Ind.) H.S. Coach Travis Daugherty. "They talked to Derek an awful lot about that, and it was a priority for them the whole time."
It has paid off. After making an unofficial visit to IU over the weekend, Elston returned to his Tipton home, weighed his options, and then called the Hoosier staff Sunday night and verbally committed, becoming the first member of IU's 2009 class.
Elston is the 68th-ranked player in the 2009 class according to Scout.com, someone who was drawing interest from Purdue, North Carolina, Iowa and Butler, among others. He averaged 15 points and 12 rebounds as a sophomore while also leading his team in assists, blocks and steals.
"I think the thing that separates him from a lot of guys is how versatile he is," said Daugherty, whose Class 2A team went 12-10 in 2006-07. "He has the ability to make perimeter shots, to handle the ball and to pass."
Those are characteristics that attracted the Hoosier staff. IU, meanwhile, impressed Elston with a vision for not only him in their system, but also where they saw the program going over the next several years.
"He had a lot of interest from a lot of good places, but in the end he felt IU was the right fit for him," Daugherty said. "Their staff laid out a clear picture of the goals that they have for the program and how he fits into those goals. After he realized it would be a place he could accomplish his goals too."
One of IU's points of emphasis was how Elston was the type of player who has generally flourished in Sampson's system over the years. Daugherty said his standout is a hard-nosed, physical player who is a regular in the weight room, someone who figures to add plenty of weight and muscle to his frame.
"I think with how physical the Big Ten has become, that is something Derek will handle really well," Daugherty said. "Coach Sampson is known for developing that sense of toughness in kids, and that's something Derek will do really well with. He enjoys that stuff."
Those sentiments were echoed by Scout.com National Recruiting Director Dave Telep, who saw Elston play a handful of times over the summer.
"Elston's that kind of player who has a nose for the basketball," Telep said. "His approach to the game meshes well with what Sampson asks of his players. He'll give you the occasional face-up hit and be versatile piece of the frontcourt puzzle.'
During his two years with him, Daugherty has seen Elston add weight thanks to his work in the weight room, and thinks that's something that will continue over the next couple of years.
"He's also going to put on more weight," Daugherty said. "He played under 200 pounds last year, so he's put on about 15 pounds since then. It's obvious from looking at him as he continues to work in the weight room, his frame will continue to fill out."
But Elston will be more than just a big body down low. In fact, Daugherty thinks Elston will be able to fit the small forward/power forward combo spot that Lance Stemler handled a year ago.
"I think he'll have a chance to contribute probably early in his career," Daugherty said. " He's someone who will make those dirty-word kind of plays, and yet is still capable of doing a lot of good things offensively in the post and on the perimeter."
Elston's Versatility, Roots Attract IU
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