by Kent Sterling
It may take a year or more for Zach Gunn to figure out for whom and where he wants to play college basketball, but the decision of the versatile wing from Hamilton Southeastern will show exactly where Butler and Indiana stand with in-state recruits.
Southport’s Joey Brunk recently voiced his commitment to Butler over Indiana and Purdue. Brunk is ranked easily inside the to 100 high school basketball players nationally, and as a 6’10” forward with a ton of talent and high basketball IQ, he was coveted by virtually everyone.
If Brunk was an anomaly, no big deal for the Hoosiers. If Brunk was the first evidence of a tidal shift toward the Bulldogs for central Indiana recruits, expectations are going to change in Bloomington.
What would it say about the state of Indiana University basketball if the go-to spots for recruits became Butler and Purdue? Nothing good. If Indiana can’t recruit Indiana, how can it succeed in attracting the talent needed to succeed in the Big Ten and in the NCAA Tournament.
Those of us in Indiana tend to see the basketball world through a strange prism, but imagine if Wisconsin couldn’t recruit Wisconsin or Michigan State or Michigan couldn’t recruit Michigan. There are a couple of programs who can consistently succeed by recruiting nationally and virtually ignoring their local regions, and Indiana isn’t one of them. It isn’t Duke or Kentucky. And it never was.
Indiana has always been best when it succeeded in recruiting the best in Indiana and the surrounding states, and if Gunn isn’t ready to pledge IU and Tom Crean, where does Indiana stand, and how can it succeed?
Gunn spoke to the Indianapolis Star’s Kyle Neddenriep about both Butler and Indiana, “I could see myself playing at Butler. I’ve always been a Butler fan. They do it the right way. They don’t have that star, star player, but get it done with the guys they have.”
His comments on Indiana are telling too. People who remember the glory days of Indiana Basketball recall Isiah Thomas, Calbert Cheaney, Steve Alford, and even Jared Jeffries. Here is who Gunn remembers, “I’ve watched IU since they had D.J. White and I’ve always been a fan. Crean has kept in contact and said he’d love to coach me. It’d be a dream to play there.”
D.J. White? Oh no. There has never been worse news for Indiana fans. The brains of the best of the class of 2017 are cluttered with visions of D.J. White. Nothing has ever spoken more directly about the IU Basketball brand among teens than that comment.
The players from the undefeated 1976 National Championship team are turning 60. To people of Gunn’s generation, they are grandfatherly old dodgers – and in a basketball sense, complete irrelevant.
For those of you who haven’t see Gunn play, he is a talented and smart 6’7″ wing who can shoot, defend, and rebound. He’s a good interview – funny and candid. Gunn is exactly the kind of player Indiana fans yearn to watch. He’s selfless and coachable.
Ten years ago, Butler beating Indiana for an Indiana high school recruit it coveted was unthinkable. In 2015, the Bulldogs aren’t taking a bus to Youngstown anymore for a Horizon League clash. They are in the Big East flying to play Georgetown and Villanova. And Indiana has been 16-22 in the past two Big Ten seasons without a postseason tournament win since beating Temple 58-52 in the round of 32 of the 2013 NCAAs.
Over twenty-eight years since the last NCAA Championship, one Big Ten regular season championship in 22 years, and zero Big Ten Tournament championships – ever – are tough to swallow. But losing out on a recruit like Zach Gunn to Butler in a head-to-head battle would be worse – much worse.