Bloomington – Russell Byrd came away from a recent trip to Bloomington with a pretty good feeling about IU's basketball program.
The Ft. Wayne (Ind.) Blackhawk Christian H.S. standout had already included the Hoosiers in his top five earlier in the month before he came to Bloomington a couple of weeks ago for an elite camp. But that elite camp appearance only enhanced IU in the eyes of this 6'5", 195-pound Class of 2010 wing.
"I'd say they are moving up," Byrd said. "I love Coach Crean, and I love the coaches he brought with him. I think he's doing a great job."
He's clearly been doing a great job with Byrd, Scout.com's 69th-ranked player in the class and the 21st ranked shooting guard. Byrd said he wasn't giving IU much of any consideration before getting to meet Crean earlier this summer at the Hoosiers' team camp, and they're now in his final five along with Michigan State, Ohio State, Kentucky and Michigan. Byrd said all five have offered scholarships.
Crean is the biggest reason for the fact IU has emerged as a legitimate contender for Byrd. It started during the team camp, when Byrd was impressed with the attention Crean paid to him as well as the advice he got.
"After our games, he'd talk to me a little bit and tell me things to work on," Byrd said. "At the elite camp, he was coaching during the games almost. He'd tell me good play or to get lower. I love that from him. He's a great coach.
"He also makes you feel like he's your best friend. He's personable and wants the best for you, and that's very attractive."
Crean also wants what's best for the IU program, and that may very well include having Byrd as a part of IU's 2010 class. A rangy wing who very good from behind the 3-point arc, Byrd averaged 17 points and eight rebounds as a high school sophomore.
To do that, IU will have to best some challenging recruiting competition. One of the most formidable competitors could be Michigan State, where Crean's former boss, Tom Izzo, is looking to out-duel his former protégé on the recruiting front.
"Coach Crean is like a mini-Izzo," Byrd said. "I can see a lot of similarities between the two. I love Coach Izzo and I love Coach Crean."
While each of Byrd's other four finalists figure to be tough recruiting competitors, Indiana has already gone from a non-factor to being picked over Iowa, Notre Dame, Wake Forest, Louisville and Baylor to be one of Byrd's finalists. Byrd scratched those programs from his list at the end of the AAU season, a decision he admits wasn't easy.
"Cutting it down was really tough," Byrd said. "I hated doing that. I think the world of all those coaches. But I understood before I called them that it's a business and they get told no more than they get told yes. So it's not the end of the world to them."
Now that he's down to five, Byrd said he doesn't anticipate making any more cuts before making a final decision. That decision, meanwhile, might come sooner than many might have thought for a player with two full seasons of high school basketball remaining.
"I think I'll make a decision pretty soon, at least by the end of my high school season," Byrd said.
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