IU basketball is all about one thing these days.
We're not talking about an ill-advised pass or a 35-second shot clock violation, but rather the demolition and reconstruction of the Hoosiers' basketball roster.
Earlier this week, point guard Jeremiah Rivers announced his intentions to transfer to IU after spending the last two seasons at Georgetown. He'll sit out the 2008-09 campaign before returning to the court in the fall of 2009 with two years of eligibility remaining.
The news of Rivers' decision was just the latest adjustment to an IU roster that's been in a state of flux (or disarray) ever since the Hoosiers were thumped by Arkansas in the first-round of the NCAA tourney in March.
First-year coach Tom Crean has found enough meat on the 2008 recruiting bone to add five players to the roster this spring. Those additions have come by any means necessary, including transfer (Rivers), junior college (Tijan Jobe, Devon Dumes) and the high school ranks (Nick Williams, Verdell Jones). That quintet joins fall signees Tom Pritchard and Matt Roth to give Indiana a seven-man class, the program's largest influx of scholarship players in 19 years.
This group of seven won't be confused with the last group of seven – IU inked Calbert Cheaney, Greg Graham, Pat Graham, Chris Reynolds, Lawrence Funderburke, Todd Leary and Chris Lawson in 1989 – but Crean and his staff get an A for creativity as well as execution for their recruiting efforts in their first two months on the job. Sure, there were misses with the likes of Josh Harrellson, Maurice Sutton and Tyshawn Taylor, but considering the pool of players available, it's been a job well done by the new IU staff.
Of course, it was also a job much needed due to a seemingly unparalleled mass exodus of players from last season's roster. Like the additions, the exits have also come in nearly every way imaginable. From early NBA declarations (Eric Gordon) to defections (Eli Holman) to dismissals (Armon Bassett, Jamarcus Ellis, DeAndre Thomas and Brandon McGee), the players have been going as quickly as they've coming.
The most delicate of these situations was probably the dismissal of McGee last week. While interim coach Dan Dakich was largely responsible for bouncing Bassett and Ellis out of town and Holman's noisy exit was of his own choosing, McGee's roots in the Chicago Public League made his departure one to be navigated carefully.
Crean enjoyed great success recruiting the Windy City area during his days at Marquette, and burning bridges with those coaches wasn't on his list of things to do now that he's in Bloomington. That's likely why IU's announcement of McGee's dismissal included a carefully crafted comment about its efforts to make this situation work, and its gratitude to Crane H.S. coach Anthony Longstreet in trying to do so as well.
It's clearly been a bumpy ride, and it might not be over. The bad news is that the only returning scholarship player recruited by Sampson – freshman guard Jordan Crawford – has been rumored to be lukewarm at best about returning. Nothing has happened to date and the IU staff certainly appears to want the Detroit native back, but the turnover of the staff and roster has him debating his next course of action.
On the positive side, IU has hopes of bringing in one more player who would actually wind up being the headliner of IU's '08 class – Emmanuel Negedu. The 6-7, 225-pound forward from Brewster Academy will visit Bloomington Tuesday, the first of four official stops that will also include trips to Georgia Tech (June 8), Tennessee (June 10) and Memphis (June 12). The one-time Arizona signee knows incoming Hoosiers Tijan Jobe, Kory Barnett, Matt Roth and Daniel Moore well, and IU is banking on those ties helping lure him to town to put an exclamation mark on the most topsy and turvy and tumultuous of recruiting seasons.
If Indiana manages to land Negedu he'll be one of at least 10 new faces on IU's 2008-09 roster, a group of players who will help usher in a new era of Hoosier basketball.
It's a group and a coach that has its work cut out for it as it tries to re-establish itself on college basketball's landscape and eventually reclaim a spot among college basketball's elite.
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