Bloomington – Tom Crean has managed to do the seemingly impossible with his 2009 recruiting class.
Sure, he found a way to assemble Scout.com's No. 7 class nationally despite the cloud of uncertainty that IU won't shake until the NCAA issues its final ruling. He also managed to overcome the sanctions that he inherited when he took over in the spring, ones that limited the number of days he could be on the road recruiting and the number of phone calls he could place to prospective recruits.
But that's not the mission impossible that we're talking about here. Instead, the most impressive accomplishment is the fact he put together a top-10 recruiting class with players who figure to be on IU's campus for the foreseeable future.
In this day and age, top-10 classes are built with the Eric Gordon-types – tremendous talents who are making a pit stop in college before jumping to the NBA. But with the exception of possibly Birmingham, Ala., forward Christian Watford, IU's class is made up of players who don't figure to be headed anywhere else anytime soon.
"They stood with us," Crean said. "They wanted to be a part of this program. We weathered the storm, they weathered the storms. When self-doubt can creep in, when you wonder what can happen to a program, everyone stayed strong. I'm proud of them."
As of Wednesday afternoon, IU had received signed letters of intent from Watford, Maurice Creek, Jordan Hulls, Bobby Capobianco and Derek Elston. Bawa Muniru's letter is expected to arrive today.
Crean is excited about all of the recruits for various reasons, but there's one trait that he believes they will all bring to Bloomington next fall.
"The thing that stands out to me about this class is they are willing to above and beyond what is expected of them," Crean said. "Every young man that we've signed I think is a gym rat. It doesn't matter if they're 6-9 or 6-foot. They want to be in the gym, they want to get better.
"When you've got that with the abilities they have and the desire to improve, that says a lot."
No one is a bigger gym rat than Hulls, the 6'0", 170-pound point guard from Bloomington (Ind.) South H.S. The ninth-ranked point guard in the nation according to Scout.com, Hulls is a player who shot up the national rankings with his play in the spring with the Indiana Elite AAU program. He's a gifted shooter and ball handler, but it's his leadership that might be his greatest attribute.
"I think he's got the whole package – he's a pure winner," Crean said. "He's as much of a pure leader as we've recruited since we recruited Travis Diener at Marquette…Jordan has a lot of that same demeanor.
"I'm glad we've got him. I'd be miserable if we didn't have him with us after having a chance to see him in the summer and seeing what he is capable of."
Hulls is one of two in-state players in the recruiting class along with Tipton's Derek Elston. The 6'8", 212-pounder is Scout.com's 90th-ranked player in the '09 class and originally pledged to former Coach Kelvin Sampson. After Sampson exited and Crean entered, Elston reaffirmed his pledged to play in Bloomington.
Since then Elston has gone through some tough times, suffering a knee injury in the spring that derailed his summer AAU season. But he's now back on the court, and Crean is impressed by what he's seen from Elston during his time away from the court.
"His body looks completely different," Crean said. "He gained weight, he gained strength, he lived in the weight room. He turned a negative into a positive. I want to be around those kind of guys."
Elston will bring some much needed beef to the frontline along with the first player to commit to Crean after he arrived at IU, Bobby Capobianco. The 6'8", 225-pound Loveland, Ohio, product was not only the first player to commit to Crean but also the first to send in his letter of intent Wednesday morning at 7:01 a.m.
"He wants to be here so bad – that's what I love about him," Crean said. "He has a great attitude. He's tough, he can rebound the ball, he can play inside, out. He has to get a little bit quicker, a little bit more athletic, but he's got a body and he has an attitude. That's what I like about him."
While Elston and Capobianco will bring some beef to the frontline, the 6'7", 215-pound Watford brings the versatility to play on the frontline or on the wing. The 72nd ranked player nationally according to Scout.com, Watford has length, athleticism, versatility and a second-to-none work ethic according to Crean.
His signing also proved to Crean that there's a still a lot of things that appealed to recruits about the IU program, despite the tough times they went through in the off-season.
"What he does is show that Indiana, when you look at him and Maurice, it shows Indiana is still a player on the national landscape. He turned down some very good schools," Crean said.
"He's a hybrid-type athlete. He can play numerous positions. He can get to the rim, he's not afraid of contact. He's going to have to become a better all-around rebounder but he has those capabilities…we're thrilled to have him."
As far as national rankings go, Watford and Creek were the two biggest names in IU's class. According to Scout.com's rankings, Creek has the top ranking at No. 45 nationally, and Crean has been watching him for some time and has seen him game get better and better.
"He loves the game," Crean said. "He's really, really made himself a very good shooter. When we first started recruiting him he was pretty good at the mid-range and he could get to the rim. Now, he's one of the better pure shooters out there."
Once Muniru's letter arrives, it will wrap up a class that figures to have Indiana once again among the conference's elite quickly.
"When you build a program, you can't skip steps," Crean said. "When you're building a program or rebuilding a program, restructuring a program, you have to take some serious steps. Our recruiting class is one of those."
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