Bloomington - Believe it or not, things could actually be worse for Tom Crean.
Sure, he's inherited a team that has only one returning scholarship player and will begin play this fall short on size, experience and numbers.
There's also still an NCAA ruling to fret, one that could further inhibit IU's efforts to turn the page on the Kelvin Sampson era and Crean's efforts to refurbish the Hoosier program.
These are tough times for IU. But as hard as it might be to fathom, it could actually be worse.
Crean could be somewhere other than Indiana.
The Hoosier state might be known to those outside the college basketball world for its acres of cornfields, but its most bountiful crop might just be the abundance of up-and-coming elite basketball prospects. It's that commodity that makes Crean's reclamation project a bit less daunting.
The first-year IU coach won't have to travel hundreds of miles away and try to sell his program to a slew of skeptical recruits. Instead, he'll have the opportunity to construct the nucleus of championship-caliber teams with prospects within a 3-hour radius of Bloomington.
Whether it's the 2009, 2010 or 2011 class, there are elite basketball prospects in the state of Indiana, and they're in abundance. Crean has only been on the job for a shade more than 100 days, but he's already made it a priority to identify who those players are and let them know that he's interested.
"We're really tried to dive hard into the rising juniors, the rising sophomores and even paying attention to who freshmen are going to be," Crean said earlier this month. "You have to know."
What he's come to know is that one of the nation's best shooting guard prospects in the 20111 class – Spencer Turner - is on the south side of town at Bloomington South H.S. He's also learned that Indianapolis' Lawrence North H.S. has elite prospects available in '09, '10 and '11 (Stephan Van Treese, Justin Martin, Michael Chandler and Ryan Taylor), and that nearby Pike H.S. has a sophomore-to-be point guard in Marquis Teague that many think has a chance to be at the same level of recent Circle City greats such as Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Eric Gordon.
He's also learned that it doesn't end there. Indianapolis' North Central H.S. has been very good to IU in recent years with former Mr. Basketballs A.J. Ratliff and Gordon, and now Coach Doug Mitchell has another outstanding prospect in Class of 2010 guard Terone Johnson. In southern Indiana, there's New Albany H.S. big man Donnie Hale in the 2010 class, while the 2011 class boasts the third Zeller, Cody, from nearby Washington. In the northern half of the state, there's 2011 star Jeremiah Davis at Muncie Central and Ft. Wayne Blackhawk Christian's Russell Byrd in 2010, a pair of shooting guards who have already been extended offers.
It might be tough times at IU right now, but it's a good time to be looking close to home for talented prospects to restock the coffers. The wealth and depth of talent in Indiana is as good as it's been in recent memory. He's been busy identifying those players, seeing them when he can, and trying to get the message across that there's been no luster lost from the Hoosier program.
Crean will certainly continue to pursue elite national recruits such as Iowa's Harrison Barnes, Seattle's Josh Smith, Arizona's Matt Carlino, but there's a degree of comfort knowing there's plenty of special talent a whole lot closer to home.
"We keep looking at what it really is – it's a great place," Crean said. "There are so many good things happening here."
And so many great recruits to pick from for years to come.
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