So often, the answer from Indiana fans when asked about Tom Crean’s leadership of the Hoosiers basketball program is, “Poor game coach, quirky guy, but great recruiter.”
His rep as a challenged game coach is overblown, but so is the usual valuation of his recruiting process. We all agree on the quirks.
Normally, I am not a fan of ranking basketball players 18-and-younger. No one can tell the difference between the 32nd best player in the class of 2017 and the 46th. Kids can be clustered, but as you’ll see below, the rankings of a kid like Victor Oladipo did not take into account the work ethic that would drive his jump from barely in the top 150 in the class of 2010 to the second overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft.
But how else are we to judge recruiting? So in breaking down Crean’s 10 recruiting classes, we will use the rankings of Rivals and Scout services to answer the question about the real world results of Crean’s handiwork in compelling student-athletes to pledge IU.
Indiana’s team rankings below is from Scout.com, and it’s listed immediately after the year. Scout only ranks recruiting classes down to 25th, which is fine because telling the 27th best from the 42nd is a futile enterprise. The player rankings list the Rivals evaluation first and Scout’s second.
2017 – NR (three Big 10 teams ranked in top 25)
With four Indiana prep stars inside the top 30 in every service, it is disappointing the Hoosiers couldn’t net even one. This class is still a work in progress. While likely Bryant, Anunoby, and Blackmon will bounce after the season, it’s not a done deal. If one or more stick around, the number of available scholarships might need to be adjusted.
- Justin Smith, #107/#90
- Clifton Moore, #126/NR
- Al Durham, NR/NR
2016 – NR (three Big 10 teams ranked in top 25)
This class is still a mystery. Davis has shown an ability to score, but fouls far too often on the other end (five in just nine minutes at Minnesota is a prime example). Projecting the potential of Jones and Green is tough because they are playing short minutes. For an unranked player, Green has looked very good at times.
- De’Ron Davis, #35/#44
- Curtis Jones, #69/NR
- Grant Gelon, NR/NR
- Devonte Green, NR/NR
- Freddie McSwain, JC/JC
2015 – NR (three Big 10 teams ranked in top 25)
Anunoby being unranked shows the flaw in the ranking system – or those tasked with evaluation. This class has to grade out better than the experts projected. All three players have been key contributors, and two might play in the NBA – although I see Bryant as an extreme long shot in any role but an end of bench guy who shuttles back and forth from the NBDL to NBA.
- Thomas Bryant, #27/#28
- Juwan Morgan, #109/NR
- O.G. Anunoby, NR/NR
2014 – #23 (4th in Big 10)
Talk about the yin and yang of recruiting. Both Blackmon and Johnson are flawed, but both have been solid in their three seasons in Bloomington when healthy. The rest of the class is forgettable at best as three have exited. It was a good idea for Crean to grab a couple of top 50 recruits at the shooting guard position because it was clear the Stanford Robinson was an ill-tempered short-timer when he came to IU in 2013.
- James Blackmon Jr., #22/#32
- Robert Johnson, #48/#46
- Max Hoetzel, NR/NR
- Jeremiah April, NR/NR
- Tim Priller, NR/NR
- Emmitt Holt, NR/NR
2013 – #6 (tops in Big 10)
This class looked great on paper. Then Fischer went home during holiday break his freshman year, Robinson imploded, and Davis was lost to a head injury that resulted from late night revelry. Vonleh jumped to the NBA after his freshman year, while Williams waited until after his junior season. Hartman’s injuries ended whatever hope remained for this class to bring a championship to Bloomington.
- Noah Vonleh, #8/#7
- Troy Williams, #47/#67
- Stanford Robinson, #56/#59
- Luke Fischer, #94/#79
- Devin Davis, #127/NR
- Collin Hartman, NR/NR
2012 – #6 (tops in Big 10)
Uh-oh. The Movement. Minus Yogi, this much ballyhooed class with its roots in Indiana was a train wreck. Hollowell was poorly evaluated, and the ranking for Mosquera Perea was worse – much worse. When this class is used as an example of how Indiana high school players are overrated and Crean is right to focus elsewhere, my blood pressure soars to 380 over 240. Other than Yogi, this class was easily seen as a mess before they enrolled, and attaching their legacy to others is silly.
- Yogi Ferrell, #19/#28
- Jeremy Hollowell, #41/#28
- Hanner Mosquera Perea, #43/#49
- Ron Patterson, #131/NR
- Peter Jurkin, NR/NR
2011 – NR (four Big 10 teams – including Rutgers – ranked in top 25)
Zeller was obviously a southern Indiana superstar, and Etherington was a solid glue guy willing to compete regardless of the difficulty of the challenge. Abell being run out of town was perfectly understandable if the story about his exit is accurate.
- Cody Zeller, #15/#13
- Austin Etherington, NR/NR
- Remy Abell, NR/NR
2010 – NR (three Big 10 teams ranked in top 25)
This appeared to be a very lackluster group, but Oladipo and Sheehey turned this into a win for Crean. The search party is still looking for Guy-Marc.
- Will Sheehey, #141/NR
- Victor Oladipo, #144/NR
- Guy-Marc Michel, NR/NR
2009 – #10 (tops in the Big Ten)
This was a good class. Watford, Hulls, and Elston did a lot of the heavy lifting in putting Indiana back in the mix as a contender in the Big 10. Creek might have been the best of the bunch if he had not suffered a horrific knee injury.
- Christian Watford, #41/#48
- Maurice Creek, #56/#42
- Derek Elston, #103/#78
- Jordan Hulls, #107/#51
- Bawa Muniru, #112/NR
- Bobby Capobianco, NR/NR
2008 – Can’t hold Crean responsible for this class as he took the gig after the die was cast
So what have we learned from this exercise? That from a rankings perspective, Crean’s ability to sell a bright future peaked in 2012 & 2013. After that the recruiting has been hit and miss, and so has the on-court product.
It’s absurd to characterize Crean’s work as a recruiter as a failure, but the growth and then recession of quality in his work as an importer/exporter is evident.
We could tally the top 20 recruits for Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Arizona, and other programs to compare them with Crean’s work at Indiana, but that would negate the curiously excellent vetting of prep targets like Oladipo and Anunoby, who were overlooked by almost everyone but Indiana.
Indiana has had three Crean recruits drafted into the NBA. Ferrell and Williams have played this season as undrafted rookies. That doesn’t compare with elite programs. With five players in the NBA, Indiana is deep on the list – outside the top 15.
You can draw your own conclusions about Crean as a recruiter, but the art of building a great team in business or sports is finding individuals who will fit well as a group.
Has that happened in Bloomington? Not since 2013. What about last season’s Big 10 Championship? That is just how good Yogi was.
Is Crean a great recruiter? Judging from the year-to-year arc of the rankings and results, he was at the top of his game in 2013.
Kent Sterling hosts the fastest growing sportstalk show in Indianapolis on CBS Sports 1430 every weekday from 3p-7p, and writes about Indiana sports at kentsterling.com.