BLOOMINGTON -- Of course it’s about recruiting.
In the end, when you get to the heart of Hoosier Hysteria, it’s about selling the Indiana basketball program to outstanding prospects; it’s about building for a championship future even while working on a championship present.
Yes, that sounds pretty deep, and there’s a reason for it that goes beyond the tension built by the 47-mile walk we had from out car to get to Assembly Hall because probably 20,000 people wanted to attend, although only 17,542 were actually allowed in the building, which is still 300 above capacity.
Or so they want us to believe.
Anyway, it might have been the best attended Midnight Madness type event in NCAA history, certainly in IU history. It was fueled by off-the-chart expectations that come from having the preseason No. 1 ranking boosted by a roster talented and deep enough for two teams.
TOTAL DISCLOSURE NO. 1: We didn’t actually walk 47 miles. We are exaggerating for effect.
What is that effect?
You ask too many questions.
Anyway, you had more than 20 elite basketball recruits on hand, plus a couple of four-star Indianapolis defensive football standouts in Darius Latham and David Kenney. After watching the football Hoosiers lose a 31-30 heartbreaker to Navy on the Assembly Hall scoreboard big screen –- it’s IU’s fifth game of allowing at least 31 points –- Latham and Kenney couldn’t miss the playing opportunity that awaits if they sign with coach Kevin Wilson’s program.
Guess what. Kenney committed on Sunday. Unlike his previous commitment, to Iowa, this one is likely to stick. Kenney a 6-2, 250-pound defensive end is rated as the state’s No. 7 overall player and the nation’s No. 10 defensive end.
Still, this was a basketball event, and in the short term recruiting, as in the Class of 2013, the big prospects are Troy Williams and BeeJay Anya. Both were at Hoosier Hysteria.
Williams is a 6-6 small forward from Oak Hill Academy who is rated as the nation’s No. 36 prospect. Looks like his list is down to two: IU and North Carolina.
Anya is a 6-8, 270-pound center from Maryland who is rated No. 47 nationally. Assembly Hall fans, a savvy group, chanted his name as he walked across Branch McCracken Court Saturday night. Anya still has a long list that includes IU, Duke, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio State and UCLA.
As you can see, the competition is formidable.
TOTAL DISCLOSURE NO. 2 –-- At the moment Indiana has 10 scholarship players set to return next season. It already has four Class of 2013 players committed in small forward Collin Harman, small forward Devin Davis, shooting guard Stanford Robinson and center Luke Fischer. That would be 14 scholarships, one over the limit. Adding more players for the Class of 2013 would make the scholarship dilemma even bigger, even if sophomore Cody Zeller does leave after this season to enter the NBA Draft.
Isn’t this the same over-signing drama that hovered over the program for months until Ron Patterson’s academic issues settled in August?
Yes, but that’s the way it is in these aggressive recruiting times unless you’re Kentucky coach John Calipari and can, seemingly, get almost anybody you want, even if you arrive late in the recruiting process.
In the end, whether you’re one over the scholarship limit, or four, it all works out.
Anyway, the Hoosiers unleashed their full sales pitch arsenal at Hoosier Hysteria –- a singing Victor Oladipo, dancing players (some of their moves were choreographed by coach Tom Crean’s daughter, Megan), flames, music, spotlights, ESPN co-host Sage Steele, an inspirational video of great Hoosier moments and players (yes, Christian Watford’s Kentucky beating three-pointer from last year was included), a long-shot contest won by Cody Zeller, a dunk contest won by Oladipo (leaping over cheerleaders, IU women’s basketball players and Watford’s brother in one dunk), a brief scrimmage and passionate words from Crean.
A key theme -– IU’s basketball family is like no other.
“Every program in sports preaches family,” Crean said. “That’s fine. But it would be hard to look at what has happened here and the way everybody has stuck together and not put this at the top of the chain as far as what family and sports and the university means. The passion that’s behind it.”
So, yes, Crean said, Hoosier Hysteria is huge for recruiting.
“We have a lot of visitors in the building and we’re not the only sport (that does). It’s a big deal. When people, visitors, get inside this building, it’s an incredible spectacle for them. It’s not just what they see and hear, but what they feel.
“There’s something special about this place and people who come into this building feel that.”
You don’t get a much stronger sales pitch than that, unless you’re Bishop Luers Vijay Blackmon, a freshman guard who just got an offer from Crean. He’s the younger brother of James Blackmon, who has committed to IU as part of the class of 2014.
Do the recruits buy into it?
More and more in this Cream ‘n Crimson world, they do.