Friday, October 11, 2013
The trouble with early commitments
By Jeff Goodman
Trey Lyles committed to Indiana as a freshman, but he opened up his recruitment in 2012.
James Blackmon Jr. began Indiana’s resurgence when he gave Tom Crean and the Hoosiers a verbal commitment on Sept. 7, 2010.
Blackmon had yet to play his first high school game, but Crean & Co. took a chance, desperately needing in-state recruiting momentum and picking up a player who would wind up being ranked by just about everyone in the Top 50.
Nineteen days later, Indiana received another pledge, this time from a skilled power forward originally from Canada by the name of Trey Lyles.
Hoosier Nation rejoiced. Boy, did they ever. Two young, highly regarded players who would help turn the fortunes of a storied program that had won just 16 games over Crean’s first two seasons.
Cody Zeller would commit to the Hoosiers two months later, and Indiana was back. Well, not quite -- but Blackmon and Lyles helped give the program credibility, and Zeller once again made it cool for an elite prospect to go to IU.
Zeller is gone, leaving after a two-season career that included consecutive Sweet 16 appearances. Crean has brought in a terrific freshman class this season that includes Noah Vonleh and Troy Williams, and Blackmon and Lyles were supposed to finally arrive in Bloomington a year from now to not only sustain the recent success but also put the Hoosiers in prime position to win their sixth national title.
There’s only one problem. These guys didn’t stick with their commitments. Lyles did exactly what Crean and his staff had anticipated, becoming one of the most skilled power forwards in the nation. He decommitted on Aug. 8, 2012 amid growing speculation that he'd ultimately land at Kentucky. Lyles recently trimmed his list to UK and Louisville.
James Blackmon Jr. committed to Indiana before even playing a high school game.
Blackmon reopened his recruitment Aug. 8, nearly three years after committing to Indiana as a 14-year-old freshman. He’s also considering Kentucky, along with Michigan, Michigan State and Indiana.
Just like that, Crean went from having a stellar recruiting class -- one that would have competed for No. 1 in the nation -- to a class that had nothing.
Twitter. Facebook. Instagram. Vine. I’m not saying that social media was the reason why Lyles and Blackmon didn’t stick with their initial plan to attend Indiana, but it’s altered the landscape of recruiting.
“Without question, social media has changed recruiting,” Crean said. “Nothing stops someone from tweeting something to these kids. You’ve got to be unbelievably mature at any age to deal with Twitter and Facebook.”
For many of these kids nowadays, it’s about the attention. Frankly, they can’t get enough of it. It’s become a daily race to see how many Twitter followers they can pick up, and once they commit to a particular school, it dwindles quickly. They watch their summer teammates get bombarded by programs, see big-name coaches in the stands for others, and often wonder why they committed so early.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino has a new philosophy.
“We’d rather not take kids early anymore,” Pitino said.
Some recruits make the mistake of deciding without enough information. Others are pressured into making a commitment. It’s certainly not a novel concept, as guys like Taylor King (UCLA) and Ryan Boatright (USC) made pledges before they were in high school -- and wound up playing elsewhere.
Pitino’s frustration comes from the fact that he’d put together one of the top recruiting classes in the country. He went into the all-important July period this past summer with three Top 50 players in hand: Guards Quentin Snider and JaQuan Lyle and wing Shaqquan Aaron.
Now only Aaron remains. Snider, the prize of the class, had pledged back on Aug. 4, 2011. He reopened his recruitment earlier this year, at the end of July, and committed to Illinois two weeks later. Lyle was on board for just a couple months, committing on June 26 and decommitting on Sept. 14.
“Once a kid commits, the fan base leaves him and goes on to the next kid,” Pitino said.
Pitino also said that while he doesn’t think it's become worse in terms of coaches targeting committed kids, other coaches have an easier time battling just one school once a recruit has committed.
“Al Maguire used to say that he’d wait until a young man verbally committed, because then he only had to fight one school,” Pitino said. “I don’t think it’s the coach, though. It’s the antennas who mess with them.”
Miami coach Jim Larranaga and his staff received a commitment from D.J. Russell back in July. By all accounts, the 6-foot-6 Arlington Country Day freshman is extremely talented and would be a terrific addition in 2017 to the Hurricanes.
But Russell still has three years to deal with the tweets, Facebook messages and pawns. If those who preceded him are any indication, the odds aren’t exactly in favor of Russell playing for the Hurricanes.