Bloomington – Tom Crean is doing his part to help lure arguably the state's top 2009 recruit to Bloomington.
This time, though, it's not a basketball standout but a baseball star. Indianapolis Park Tudor's Micah Johnson is a switch-hitting middle infielder who is at the very top of IU baseball coach Tracy Smith's wish list, and the 5-11, 180-pounder is giving serious thought to playing for the Hoosiers.
"A couple of weeks ago I called (Smith) and told him I wasn't that interested because I had a lot of pressure from other schools," Johnson said. "But I went down for a visit last weekend, and right now Indiana might be my No. 1."
In addition to meeting with the IU baseball staff and watching Smith conduct a workout, Johnson also had a chance to talk with Crean for about an hour. Crean told Johnson that both he and Smith are in the midst of rebuilding their respective programs, and that getting the best in-state players to go to IU is key to their successes.
It was a message that resonated with the Indianapolis standout.
"It's about this - do you want to be someone who helps build a program or do you want to go to an established program?" Johnson said. "Right now it's probably between Indiana and Arizona, and everyone already knows Arizona is a big program. But if I go to IU, maybe I can start up the whole program and in 10 years they'll be on the map."
Most think Johnson is the sort of talent that would make that kind of mark on IU baseball. As a junior he hit .558 with five home runs, 39 runs and 45 RBIs in just 27 games. He also has tremendous speed and an approach to the game that make him a must have recruit in the eyes of Smith and his coaching staff.
"Coaches say the one thing that stands out is the way I play the game," Johnson said. "Every day, I play hard. I'll tag from third on a shallow pop fly, I'll run hard on anything. They all like that."
Johnson, meanwhile, likes what he's seen from Smith. The third-year IU coach guided the Hoosiers to a 31-30 record last season, including the team's first Big Ten Tournament appearance since 2004. The Hoosiers advanced to the Big Ten tourney semifinals and they return the nucleus for the upcoming 2009 campaign.
"He's a great guy, and he's doing everything he can to get me down there," Johnson said. "I watched him on the practice field and he runs things hard core, really smooth. He's all business. At the same time, he'll treat you like his own son. He's a really nice guy and you can talk to him about anything."
Johnson said he's primarily considering four schools – Indiana, Arizona, Southern Miss and Ball State. Johnson left for Arizona today for a visit, and said a decision could come soon after his return.
"I think by Friday I'll have a decision, after I get back from Arizona and see everything," Johnson said.
Johnson is also considering a return trip to Bloomington next weekend as well. Crean invited him to come to next Friday night's Hoosier Hysteria practice, which marks the official start of the 2008-09 basketball season.
"I think I'm going to come down - he said it's a blast," Johnson said.
After Johnson makes his college choice, he could very well have another decision to make next summer when Major League Baseball conducts its 2009 amateur draft. Johnson said he'll have a better idea about how high he might be drafted after a trip to Jupiter, Fla., later this month for the WWBA World Championship. It's an event that features 80 of the top travel teams from the U.S., Canada and Latin America, and is considered to be the top amateur baseball tournament in the world.
"Right now, the phrase being thrown around is life-changing money - if it's millions or upwards of $500,000, I'd definitely look at that hard," said Johnson, who plays with the Indiana Bulls travel team. "But besides that, if you get taken in the late rounds you might as well go to school, get a degree, and hopefully get drafted in the higher rounds later and get more money."
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