For the second time this month, Indiana head coach Tom Crean was able to secure a commitment from one of the top players in the state of Indiana.
Neither of those kids have even set foot on the court for a high school game yet.
Trey Lyles is a 6'9", 14 year old freshman at Arsenal Tech High School in Indianapolis. Over the weekend, after an unofficial visit to the Bloomington campus, Lyles told his parents and IU head coach Tom Crean that he had made the decision to commit to the Hoosiers. This comes just three weeks after James Blackmon, a 6'2" freshman at Fort Wayne Leurs High School, committed to Indiana after the Hoosiers season opening football game.
A lot of people are going to rip this decision, and they aren't wrong (more on that in a minute). But before you lump Crean in with the cretins that take advantage of precocious 14 year old athletes, think about this a bit harder. Blackmon and Lyles are both Indiana natives, and if you know anything about Indiana natives, you know they live and breath Hoosier basketball. Now pretend you are a 14 year old kid from Indiana, and the Hoosier basketball coach invites you to campus to talk, get a tour, see a football game, meet the players, etc. Would this not be a dream come true you?
"The Hoosiers?!?! And they want me?!?!" What do you expect to happen?
Anyone watching this process can bitch and moan and rip Crean all they want, but the bottom line is that he is trying to rebuild the Indiana program. The best way to do that is to recruit the hell out of Indiana. There is a lot of basketball talent produced in that state. Like it or not, recruitment can be a four year process, and sometimes the best way to land a kid down the road is to be the first to contact him.
And that is exactly what Crean did here. He invited some of the best young talent in Indiana to visit the school. Was he expecting them to commit? That, I don't know. But when Blackmon and Lyles to Crean they had made a decision and wanted to commit to his program, what is he supposed to say? No?
Would you? Would you risk offending these families? Would you risk ticking off the Indiana High School basketball scene?
Believe me, I understand the risks involved here. There are so many question marks when it comes to the development of players at that age. How much more is he going to grow? Is he successful at this age because he happened to hit his growth spurt first? Will he develop the work ethic he needs to reach his full potential when everything at this age comes so easily? Will committing as a high school freshman make him lackadaisacal, convincing him he has already "made it"? Can a high school freshman handle the mental pressure that comes from being committed to a school like Indiana? What kind of long term emotional damage will be done if that kid never ends up going to Indiana? At this point, its not even a guarantee that Crean will still be at Indiana in 2014.
14 year olds are still children. They are still very much works in progress, both mentally and physically. No matter how much natural talent a player has at that age, it is developing the ability to work hard that will determine how close a player will come to reaching their potential.
There are so many stories out there about the hyped middle schoolers that never quite make it. Andre Allen went from being the best eighth grader in the country to being Derrick Rose's back up as a senior at Memphis and getting suspended from the Final Four. Demetrius Walker had an SI article written about him, labeling him the next LeBron James, in 2005, and just transferred out of Arizona State. Taylor King committed to UCLA as a freshman in high school, and now is playing at Concordia, an NAIA school in California. Hell, even Derrick Caracter, who was recently taken in the second round by the Lakers, needed to get kicked out of Louisville to figure out that he needed to a work ethic if he wanted to make it.
Accepting a commitment from a player this age feels wrong. In fact, I would agree with anyone that argued against this practice.
And while it may seem like I am justifying the practice, I find it difficult to fault Crean in this situation. Blame the rules, not the man taking advantage of them.