What’s so special about basketball players from Indiana?”
“Do you really think basketball is different inside Indiana’s borders?”
“Why should Indiana University value a kid from Indiana over an identical kid from New York or Texas?”
If you are from Indiana, you would be surprised how often I’m asked these questions. If you aren’t from Indiana, you might be a person who’s asked them. When I talk about how pleased I am that IU’s Archie Miller and his staff are working hard to recruit their home state, people either get it or they don’t.
They say times have changed – the candy stripes don’t mean anything. I agree that garment colors and designs are valueless to recruits, and that players want more from their experience at IU than wearing funny pants in from of 17,000 people at Assembly Hall as cheerleaders run in a figure-eight carrying flags as the pep band plays the William Tell Overture.
I get what recruits want – a path to the NBA and a chance to win championships. I also understand some things about basketball in Indiana that gives a program a significant advantage when they are able to gather players from this state in bulk.
There are plenty of reasons for this:
- The best athletes in Indiana tend to play basketball exclusively. Playing summer basketball makes competing in fall and spring sports very difficult. In states like Texas and Florida, football is king. Baseball and football are huge in California. If Mike Conley and Gary Harris grew up in Florida, today they would be defensive backs or wide receivers in the NFL.
- Because Indiana kids play a lot of basketball, they reach the 10,000 hours threshold of deliberate practice needed to gain Malcolm Gladwell’s standard to become world-class. They also play against each other, which brings a legit use of the well-worn Chuck Pagano axiom, “Iron sharpens iron”. There are also world class facilities in Indianapolis like the Basketball Factory, 100% Hoops, Excellence Academy, and The Incrediplex with some of the best basketball training in the world.
- High school and summer basketball coaching in Indiana is superior to other states. We’ve discussed this before, and there is no objective measurement for coaching superiority, but watch a game somewhere else, and then watch a game in Indiana. Believe your eyes.
- Look at the lineage of Indiana high school players over the last 15 years – Josh McRoberts, Greg Oden, Conley, Harris, Trey Lyles, Zak Irvin, Yogi Ferrell, Eric Gordon, the Zellers, the Plumlees, JuJuan Johnson, Jeff Teague, Gordon Hayward, Matt Howard, Caleb Swanigan, Branden Dawson, Luke Harangody, George Hill, E’Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel, Courtney Lee, Romeo Langford, and Glenn Robinson III. Think a college team could hang a couple of banners with those 26 guys? Only four went to IU. Seventeen went either to other schools in Indiana or programs in states that border Indiana.
- If Miller can’t recruit Indiana kids to Indiana, what is he going to have to do to secure the talents of talented kids in New York, Texas, Virginia, or Massachusetts? Kids who can’t point to Indiana on a map are going to require the type of incentives in which Indiana does not want to indulge. In 49 states, cheating to win is the price of a championship, but this is Indiana.
If Leal commits to Indiana Friday, that will give Miller two native Hoosiers so far in his 2020 class. The 2019 class included Trayce Jackson-Davis, Armaan Franklin, and grad-transfer Joey Brunk – all from Indiana. In 2018, Miller netted Langford, Rob Phinisee, and Damezi Anderson from Indiana, Jerome Hunter from Ohio, Jake Forrester from Pennsylvania, and grad transfer Evan Fitzner from California. Forrester transferred a few months ago and Fitzner exhausted his eligibility, leaving Miller with a bunch of Indiana kids, and one from a neighboring state.
I have no problem with Miller recruiting Illinois and Ohio once the brand of Indiana Basketball is re-established as nationally meaningful, but right now the buzz about IU is strongest within the borders.
With a Leal commitment, followed by Kristian Lander, Caleb Furst, and Trey Kaufman in the class of 2021, Indiana the program has a chance to reflect the basketball excellence of Indiana the state.