BLOOMINGTON – It's only going to get easier from here.
When Tom Crean was introduced as IU's new basketball coach 2 ½ weeks ago, he said he knew what he was getting into. He was well aware of the expected loss of IU's top two players, the dismissal of the only two returning starters, and the self-imposed recruiting restrictions due to the alleged recruiting violations of Kelvin Sampson's staff.
Crean's path appears paved with potholes this spring, but can he manage to find enough talent in a picked-over crop of '08 recruits to restock a depleted IU roster?
Probably not, according to Scout.com National Recruiting Director Dave Telep.
"It's going to be very difficult," Telep said. "I've always been of the opinion that getting better in the spring – unless it's a one-man deal – is tough. There simply isn't enough talent to go around.
"Maybe you can find a piece of the puzzle, but trying to find multiple puzzle pieces can be, well, puzzling."
It's obvious Indiana still has plenty of needs. When Crean started individual workouts last week with the returnees, he only had four scholarship players to work with – Eli Holman, Jordan Crawford, Brandon McGee and DeAndre Thomas. He'll add Matt Roth and Tom Pritchard in the fall and he appears to be considering reinstating Armon Bassett and Jamarcus Ellis as well, but that still leaves his team five players short of the NCAA-allotted 13-man scholarship limit (and four short of IU's 12-man limit).
In an effort to address that shortage of players Crean reportedly had Champaign, Ill., guard Verdell Jones on campus for a visit this weekend and is hoping to get Southwestern Illinois College big man Josh Harrellson to town for a trip as well. There have also been rumors about interest in one-time Harvard commit Frank Ben-Eze.
But all three have plenty of other major-conference offers to consider. Jones, who averaged 17 points per game as a high school senior, is being courted by Georgetown, Kentucky, Minnesota and Virginia. Harrellson is also looking at Kentucky, Purdue, St. Louis and Missouri, while Ben-Eze has started to hear from UCLA, among others.
If the recruiting competition didn't make things tough enough, IU also doesn't have the luxury of welcoming anyone to town for an official visit since those have already all been exhausted. Teams are allowed 12 paid official visits in an academic year, but IU cut its number in half with its self-imposed penalties in October. All six have been used up, forcing Crean to ask prospective recruits to come to town on their own dime.
Add on top of that this fact - it's questionable whether any of IU's spring targets can make the sort of impact from day one that would even start to offset some of the losses IU suffered from last year's 25-8 squad.
That's why Telep said IU fans shouldn't expect Crean to load up with players this spring.
"It's important to look at IU for the long term – you don't want Crean going wild adding so many players," Telep said. "Give him time, let him add good ones and build piece by piece."
Those pieces figure to be assembled over the course of a couple of years, not a couple of weeks. Indiana has already made good progress with the '09 class thanks to the commitment of top-100 forward Derek Elston and the in-roads made with players such as Stephan Van Treese, Bobby Capobianco, Roger Franklin and possibly Jamil Wilson. It's also possible Crean could rekindle some interest from top-25 players Lance Stephenson and Leslie McDonald – both of whom have made unofficial trips to IU – as well.
That's when Crean figures to be able to lure the kind of talent that can made a dramatic impact on IU's turnaround, not this spring.
"It's going to take some time, and that requires a great deal of patience and understanding from a fan base," Telep said. "I believe if given the proper time to recover from the sanctions and restrictions, IU has a gem in Tom Crean. He's a winner."
TELEP: Sorting Out IU's Spring Options
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