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Last updated: Fri. Apr. 18, 2014 - 06:45 am EDT

COLUMN

IU spring resonates basketball potential, drama

Recruiting quest mixes with next-season urgency

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BLOOMINGTON -- Rumor has it that winter is over and spring is here, which means Indiana basketball intrigue is at fever pitch.

Somethings, it seems, never change.

Spring drama was once a Bob Knight-inspired IU tradition, and coaching successors Mike Davis, Kelvin Sampson and Tom Crean have kept it going, sometimes by design, sometimes not.

In the last month we've seen a Hoosier postseason no-show, growing fan anger, transferring players, incoming freshman James Blackmon show big-time shooting potential, outgoing freshman Noah Vonleh bolt for NBA opportunity, transfer prospects choose other programs (Ohio State is, apparently, hard to resist), assistant coach Kenny Johnson reportedly being courted hard by Maryland and Louisville, incoming freshmen Robert Johnson and Max Hoetzel showing their own shooting potential (both will participate in tonight's Kentucky Derby Festival Classic in Louisville), and non-stop rumors of, well, impending doom.

Let's take a deep breath.

First, IU could be good next season -- as in top-25 relevant.

Will it? That is the million-dollar question, and the answer is:

It had better be.

The Hoosiers are wrapping up spring workouts (better shooting and decision making are top priorities) even as coaches continue their recruiting quest for big men, and more.

They are strong contenders to land Josh Cunningham, a 6-7, 195-pound forward who just led Chicago Morgan Park to consecutive Illinois Class 3A titles. He doesn't project as an instant dominating inside presence, but he would help a scary thin frontcourt.

The four-star Class of 2014 prospect, ranked No. 80 by Rivals, has a ton of offers. He was first set to decide April 9, then today, and now next week. Also in the picture are Oklahoma, Minnesota, South Carolina, Creighton and more.

Another possibility for the Class of 2014 is unranked 6-10, 210-pound Jakeem Yates from South Carolina.

The Los Angeles Daily News reported that USC guard Byron Wesley, who averaged 17.8 points this season, is transferring and lists Indiana and Michigan among his favorites. He is set to graduate this summer and would be eligible immediately.

Finally, IU is one of three finalists with Arizona and Iowa State for 6-9 Boston College transfer Ryan Anderson, who has one year of eligibility remaining. The California native averaged 14.3 points and 7.3 rebounds last season. He'll have to sit out a year because of NCAA transfer rules, which is fine because right shoulder surgery will sideline him for the next four to six months.

Meanwhile, Crean and his staff are deep into future recruiting. Yes, that includes Homestead 6-9 sophomore standout Caleb Swanigan, who is ranked No. 13 in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. Purdue also is in the mix along with Michigan State, Illinois, Georgetown, Pitt, Tennessee, and more.

Then there are familiar Class of 2015 names such as No. 4 Stephen Zimmerman, No. 10 Carlton Bragg, No. 31 Jalen Coleman and No. 100 Hyron Edwards, plus Class of 2016 prospects No. 35 Eron Gordon, No. 17 T.J. Leaf and No. 51 Quentin Goodin, along with top-100 players Jayson Tatum and Kyle Guy.

Don't forget 2017 standouts such as Kris Wilkes of Indianapolis North Central, Paul Scruggs of Southport and Zach Gunn of Hamilton Southeastern. All play for the Indy Hoosiers travel team and all have Indiana offers.

But that down-the-road potential takes a back seat to next season's urgency. IU needs a strong rebound from this season's 17-15 disappointment and it won't come through inside power.

Why?

The Hoosiers are size challenged.

Their only true returning inside player is 6-9 sophomore Hanner Mosquera-Perea, who is strong on athleticism and potential, shaky on fundamentals, consistency and maturity. He will get every opportunity to make a big-time impact, and needs to take advantage.

Peter Jurkin, a 7-foot sophomore center, has played so little in the last few years because of injuries that it seems unlikely he'll ever be much of a contributor.

You can win with a four- or five-guard lineup, but you have to shoot well, minimize turnovers, play solid defensive, shoot well, minimize turnovers, play smart, minimize turnovers, be fundamentally sound, play tough and poised, shoot well and minimize turnovers.

Do you notice a theme here?

Blackmon rates as perhaps the best shooting freshman in the country, but he's never shot against major college defenses. That adjustment will take time, something the Hoosiers won't have a lot of against an upgraded non-conference schedule.

Johnson and Hoetzel were also recruited for their shooting prowess, and they, too, must deliver. They, along with Blackmon, comprise a top-15 recruiting class that needs to play like it.

Sophomore point guard Yogi Ferrell showed major improvement this season, finishing among the Big Ten scoring and assist leaders, and likely will again. He works too hard not to. He projects as one of the nation's best point guards.

One potential problem -- IU has no true point guard to back him up, so if he gets hurt or tired or fouls too much, well, we'll see how well the next-man-up approach works.

Freshman Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson elevated their overall play down the stretch, but they have yet to prove they can be consistently good perimeter shooters. They need to be.

Another freshman, Devin Davis, is more of an inside player, but even at a generously listed 6-7, is undersized. He, too, came on strong at the end. His tenacity is a huge plus.

Regardless of who plays where, IU has the tradition of a national superpower (five national titles) and the recent history of, well, a wannabe. It's been a generation since the Hoosiers consistently thrived in the national polls and figured among NCAA title contenders.

Since 1994, only the Mike Davis-coached 2002 national runner-up surprise, and Crean's consecutive Sweet 16 teams, have made big-time news.

Let's just say you don't see that from other traditional powerhouses such as Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina. Butler, for instance, has two Sweet 16s and two national runner-up finishes in the last 11 years.

It's time for the Hoosiers to return to national prominence, and stay there for the next decade -- at least. That needs to start next season.

And that's no rumor.

pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com


This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.


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