James Blackmon to IU – Interest in Basketball Recruiting Defies Logic and Reason

by Kent Sterling

imagesThere was a time when I was as interested in the recruiting process of college basketball as the games themselves.  I was ready to buy recruiting magazines that only coaches subscribed to, and I asked a friend if he wanted to split the cost.  He looked at me like I asked him to help me build a rocket ship out of empty beer cans.

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“Why do you care where high school kids go to college?” he asked.  His response was baffling to me.  Everyone cares about recruiting, or should.  It’s the game inside the game that determines roster strength.  At the time, this friend was a sports information director for a well-known college basketball program.

A few years later, I got to know some kids who were being recruited, and people would ask me where I thought they were going.  I had no interest in where they went.  Whether JaJuan Johnson picked Purdue, Indiana, Butler, Xavier, or whatever other schools offered him, I knew he was going to be fine.  Matt Howard was being wooed by Butler, Xavier, and Miami of Ohio.  Matt was going to be a happy guy regardless of his choice.  If I knew these kids, and didn’t care where they went to school, why would a bunch of strangers invest energy in where they decided to go?

At that point, I thought about what my friend said about buying the recruiting guide 20 years ago.  Caring about the decision some kid I have never met from a town I have never visited is a waste of time.

Still, there I was last night clicking between the Troy vs. Louisiana-Monroe football game on ESPNU and the SNL Halloween Special on NBC to see how much time remained until halftime.  James Blackmon, Jr. was scheduled to announce his decision to attend Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, or Michigan State at halftime during the broadcast.

Blackmon committed to Indiana at the very beginning of his freshman year in high school, and then decommitted a few months ago.  People from Indiana were critical of Blackmon, as though this was a betrayal instead of a kid who needed to be sure he was right.  They were also critical of coach Tom Crean for losing a recruit.

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The truth is that kids change their minds about college every two hours, and no number of phone calls, mailings, and visits from a coach are going to stop their minds from meandering.  When everything is possible, it’s hard to not see options all around you.  These kids are no different from the athletically ungifted who have no idea where they are headed, but they are held to a crazy standard of both resolution and maturity by fans who remain invested in their choice.

If only life were so simple.

So last night, while I spent six lovely years as a college student at IU, I could not have cared less about the result of Blackmon’s decision.  As with any kid, you hope they find the challenges that will prepare him for adulthood, and playing college basketball is a pretty solid start for those seeking adversity.  But whether he chose to do it in Bloomington, Ann Arbor, East Lansing, or Lexington is immaterial.

As part of the media, I’m not supposed to have a rooting interest in the games.  I don’t give a damn about what I’m supposed to do, but as you get to know people who play and coach, you tend to root for those people to succeed.  Because I’ve spent more time with the Colts, Rams, Pacers, Butler, and Indiana University than any other teams, I have become a fan.

But I’m a fan of people not jerseys, so while I hope for the success of each current version of those teams, I am totally disinterested in who chooses to join them. Sure, talent wins games, and acquiring another talented person increases the chances of success, but it just doesn’t matter to me who the Colts, Rams, or Pacers draft, or who signs with Butler or Indiana.  There is plenty of time to scrutinize the decisions and behavior of these young men.

I wish James Blackmon good health and fortune, but had he not chosen Indiana, all involved would have been just fine.

And yet I watched.  Old habits die hard.

9 thoughts on “James Blackmon to IU – Interest in Basketball Recruiting Defies Logic and Reason

  1. Jeff Gregory

    I understand what you are saying, but as a fan, it is hard to buy completely into that thinking. To me, it is the same as whether Zeller decided to go pro or stay at IU. It matters to me. Other than the fact that injuries are unwelcomed in any instance, it matters as a fan of IU whether or not Yogi Ferrell has a season-ending injury. All these things are related by what personnel is on the floor for the team you invest time and emotion on. What am I missing?

    1. kentsterling Post author

      What I would like is for fans to restrict their fandom to the players who are enrolled – or signed. The following of kids at tournaments or through high school is just creepy. The whole, “Hey there’s an eighth grader at Fishers Junior High who is ranked the 24th best wing in the class of 2020′ thing is not good for the kid, his family, or anyone involved. 60% of the people on the Peeg’s message board qualify.

      1. Jeff Gregory

        Agreed. However, I think it is a little different to creep on an eight grader than it is to be interested that James Blackmon, Jr will be reporting to IU’s first practice in less than a year.

      2. Jeff Gregory

        Agreed. However, I think it is a little different to creep on an eight grader than it is to be interested that James Blackmon, Jr will be reporting to IU’s first practice in less than a year. Also, since recruiting is a vital part of the coach’s job, fans want to see that their coach can attract the best players to the program. Wouldn’t you say?

        1. kentsterling Post author

          No question, but the evaluation of recruiting is best done when the players play for the college. Before that, it’s very tough to assess whether a kid is going to be as good as their ranking – minus some very special players.

  2. Coach Bryan

    Even though I’ve coached HS and MS age basketball players for the past 10 years, and my interest in recruiting has always been about understanding the evaluation process, the fascination with recruiting is all about projections.

    Projecting whether a kid is good enough to play high D1 or not, how he’ll fit into the environment and culture of the programs recruiting him, what the depth of that team looks like with him on the roster, and even whether he could eventually make it to the NBA level. Once your mind starts racing down that path of projection, there’s no stopping it.

    And once you start comparing him to the next kid in his class, from the previous classes or the future classes, well give up your day job and start a website to account for all the time spent makings projections.

    Grown men who spend time and travel analyzing the talents of high school boys are called recruiting analysts. Grown men who spend time and travel analyzing the talents of high school girls are called perverts and sex offenders. How’s that for logic and reason?

    1. kentsterling Post author

      I like it. The logic is unassailable. I wish the analysts had as much insight as they believe they do. Most watch once or twice in a tournament, and call it a weekend. There is no way to get to know a kid well enough when trying to watch hundred of them across three classes.

  3. Randall J. Oliver

    I respect everyone’s opinion and give them the benefit of the doubt. Usually when someone says they cheer for people rather than jerseys, they usually cheer for a star or someone who is on top.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      I cheer for people I have met and like. Not concerned with stars for stars sake, but want good people who work hard to succeed.


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