Stories of the Decade: Recruiting

From Eric Gordon to Bud Mackey to Jerimy Finch, there have been some big successes on the recruiting front in the last 10 years as well as some colossal failures. Hoosier Nation looks back at the last decade and ranks the top 12 recruiting stories from the time period…

1. Eric Gordon signs with Indiana - The embers are only now beginning to cool from the fire that Gordon started when he de-committed from Illinois and instead signed with the homestate Hoosiers. That decision delivered a significant blow to Coach Bruce Weber's program, which had targeted Gordon as the player who'd step in for the departing Dee Brown. The Illini slipped below the .500 mark and missed the NCAA Tournament in 2007-08 as a result. As a result of luring him to Bloomington, Coach Kelvin Sampson was loved by IU fans and loathed by just about everyone else, and the story became a national topic of discussion about the ethics of recruiting players who have already committed elsewhere.

2.IU commit Bud Mackey lands himself in jail – Sampson recruited his share of marginal characters during his collegiate coaching career, but no one could have foreseen the trouble that this Georgetown, Ky., product would find himself in on Sept. 28, 2007. That's the day that Mackey was arrested at Scott County H.S. and charged with possessing and intending to distribute crack cocaine. Mackey eventually pled guilty to first-degree possession of a controlled substance and spent two months in jail and is on five years probation. Indiana quickly severed its ties to him following his arrest.

3. Sean May says no to Indiana, yes to North Carolina – As far as the rankings went, IU Coach Mike Davis signed a nice crop of recruits back in 2002 when IU landed a pair of top-50 recruits in Bracey Wright (No. 13) and Marshall Strickland (No. 45). But the hope was that the backcourt firepower would be accompanied by Bloomington's own Sean May, the 10th-ranked player in the '02 class. But that wasn't to be, as May picked North Carolina over Indiana and Louisville. There continue to be behind-the-scenes issues with May's recruitment that rankled IU fans, including a late visit to Texas Tech where conspiracy theorists believe Knight convinced Sean to not go to Indiana. Both Sean and his father, Scott, insist that didn't happen, and that Sean's decision was one that he came to on his own. Sean went on to win a national championship at North Carolina and was named the Final Four MVP in 2005, so it's hard to argue with his decision.

4. Jerimy Finch commits, backs out of IU pledge – Indiana had him, lost him, and then got him back. Jerimy Finch was probably the highest-ranked recruit on a national level to commit to Indiana since Bloomington South's Bo Barzilauskas signed in 1994. But in the days leading up to the February signing date, University of Florida Coach Urban Meyer swooped in and convinced the Warren Central H.S. safety to sign with the Gators. All of this was playing out when IU Coach Terry Hoeppner's health was in question, and at the 2007 signing day press conference the former Hoosier coach took a not-so-veiled shot at Florida for its recruiting tactics. Finch went on to start as a true freshman before breaking his leg against Tennessee. He decided to transfer after that debut season to Indiana, where he's been unable to live up to the hype that surrounded him as a high school star.

5. Indiana misses out on Greg Oden and Mike Conley – other than the likes of LeBron James, Kenny Anderson and perhaps Sebastian Telfair, there have been very few high school basketball players that have generated the sort of buzz that Indianapolis Lawrence North's Greg Oden did. Along with Mike Conley, Oden led his prep team to three straight national titles and was the clear cut No. 1 recruit in the 2006 recruiting class. But try as Indiana might, Mike Davis' staff never seemed to gain any traction with Oden throughout the recruiting process and he signed with conference foe Ohio State. Oden and Conley led the Buckeyes to the NCAA title game as freshmen before losing the Florida. Davis, meanwhile, departed IU before Oden and Conley played a game in Columbus.

6. D.J. White, Josh Smith commit in matter of three days – There haven't been too many better three days stretches in recruiting for IU basketball than the period from July 8-10, 2003. At the Nike All-America Camp on July 8, D.J. White announced his intentions to play for long-time friend Mike Davis and the Hoosiers. Then, two days later, McEachem, Ga., star Josh Smith shocked plenty of people when he announced that he intended to sign with the Hoosiers as well. Smith was Scout.com's fifth-ranked player in the '04 class, while White came in at No. 14. White went on to become one of the best players in IU basketball history, capping it with a Big Ten MVP season in 2007-08. Smith, meanwhile, declared for the NBA and was the 17th overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft.

7. Tyler Zeller becomes the second Zeller to say no to Indiana – In his first year on the job, Kelvin Sampson landed the in-state recruit that no one thought he could get in Eric Gordon. But during his second season, he missed out on in-stater that he coveted – Washington's Tyler Zeller. The 6'11" Zeller had skyrocketed up the national recruiting rankings thanks to a huge AAU season with Indiana Elite, going from a borderline top-100 recruit to a McDonald's All-American. Indiana was one of his four finalists along with UNC, Purdue and Notre Dame, but like Sean May, Zeller said no to IU and yes to North Carolina. Indiana's efforts with Zeller clearly weren't aided by the news that shortly before signing day the NCAA announced it was investigating Kelvin Sampson's staff for excessive and impermissible phone calls.

8. In spite of inherited probation, Crean signs top-10 2009 recruiting class - Indiana's return to college basketball relevance took a big step forward in November when Tom Crean signed a six-player class that included four players ranked in the nation's top 100 – Maurice Creek (No. 42), Christian Watford (No. 48), Jordan Hulls (No. 51) and Derek Elston (No. 78). The most high-profile recruitment of the class was Watford, who was also getting interest from Kentucky, Louisville and Memphis. All four of those players are playing significant roles on the Hoosiers in their debut season, combining to average 40 of IU's 73.5 points thus far.

9. Luol Deng and Charlie Villanueva's visit to Bloomington – During his six years in Bloomington, Mike Davis had his share of near misses on the recruiting front, and his pursuit of Deng and Villanueva was among the most high profile. Deng was the nation's No. 2 recruit according to Scout.com and Villanueva was No. 7, and the Blair Academy teammates made visits to Bloomington the weekend of Oct, 18, 2002. But Davis' swing for the fences approach to recruiting didn't pay off, as Deng signed with Duke and Villanueva committed to Illinois (before eventually signing with UConn). As a result Indiana had to scramble in the '03 class, signing Jessan Gray-Ashley (the fourth best athlete produced by Davenport Central H.S. behind San Francisco 49er Roger Craig, middleweight boxing champion Michael "Second To" Nunn and myself) in the fall and Pat Ewing Jr. in the spring.

10. Hoosier signees ask out of IU letters of intent – Following Kelvin Sampson's resignation as Indiana's basketball coach, the Hoosiers' 2008 recruiting class quickly evaporated. Top-20 signee Devin Ebanks and top-100 point guard Terell Holloway had "outs" in their letters of intent granting them a release if there was a coaching change at IU, and both opted to head elsewhere after Sampson's departure. Interim IU coach Dan Dakich did make trips to see both Ebanks and Holloway after Sampson's dismissal, but no headway was made in convincing them to stick with their pledges. Ebanks wound up at West Virginia and Holloway landed at Xavier.

11. Indiana's mad scramble in the spring of 2008 – When Tom Crean took over the IU job in the spring of 2008, the good news was that he had the head job at one of college basketball's most storied programs. The bad news was he'd soon have almost no players. A couple of transfers and a wave of player dismissals left Crean with virtually no players on his roster and little time to assemble a squad for the 2008-09 season. Crean looked anywhere and everywhere that spring. In addition to the players Crean was able to sign (Verdell Jones, Nick Williams, Devan Dumes, Tijan Jobe and Malik Story) others like Josh Harrellson, Maurice Sutton, Miles Plumlee, Leonard Washington, Emmanuel Negedu and Edgar Garibay were also linked with IU as Crean scrambled all spring and summer long.

12. Darius Willis signs with the Hoosiers – Indiana football has long had to make every effort to assemble a winning product without being able to recruit on the same level as many of its competitors. Many of the Hoosiers' best players in recent years - such as James Hardy, Kellen Lewis and Tracy Porter – weren't heavily recruited players by any means, but they eventually blossomed into All-Big Ten caliber players. But Indiana did get one player in the spring of 2008 who was recruited by a slew of high-profile programs, including Alabama and Boston College. Franklin Central running back Darius Willis instead signed with Indiana, giving IU Coach Bill Lynch the sort of high-profile recruit that the program hadn't attracted in some time.

13. Indiana basketball takes a pass on Kevin Bookout? – One of the rumors that has floated around over the years is about former Oklahoma standout Kevin Bookout. The 35th-ranked recruit in the nation in the 2002 class, Bookout signed with the homestate Sooners and went on to be a four-year starter for Kelvin Sampson. In addition to being a standout basketball player, Bookout was also three-time collegiate All-American in the shot put at Oklahoma. As a prep, the story goes, former IU track and field coach Randy Heisler (who was an Olympic thrower in his own right) was recruiting Bookout and wanted to work out some sort of arrangement with IU Coach Mike Davis where he'd be on a basketball scholarship for part of his time and on a track scholarship for a period of time (since track has a limited number of scholarships and can't afford to give many athletes full rides). But Davis, the story goes, didn't have a great deal of interest in Bookout, which paved the way for him to go to Oklahoma. Fact or fiction? Who knows. But an interesting tale nonetheless.


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