Indiana has a ways to go before its 2014 basketball recruiting class is complete.
But the Hoosiers took a big step Friday and got their first commitment of the class after two players decommitted and quite a few swings and misses on top targets.
Robert Johnson, a senior guard out of Benedictine (Va.) School stemmed the tide of recruiting whiffs by IU coach Tom Crean and his staff. He chose the Hoosiers in a bit of a surprise move over North Carolina, Virginia and Florida State. 247Sports.com's Crystal Ball, a commitment prediction tool used by recruiting analysts, said the Tar Heels were the heavy favorite to land the 6-foot-3 top-75 prospect.
The seniors haven't been kind to Crean in this cycle. He had two decommitments from in-state prospects: Trey Lyles of Indianapolis Arsenal Tech, a 6-9 forward and top-10 player, and James Blackmon Jr., a top-40 shooting guard who is still considering the Hoosiers, although they are a long shot.
IU lost Lyles in August 2012 and Blackmon last month. The two had been committed since 2010. After that came the close-but-not-quite recruitments of several highly regarded prospects, according to the 247Composite, which aggregates recruiting rankings into one industry average.
The names won't mean much to casual fans, but the numbers will: Isaiah Whitehead (No. 17 overall); Theo Pinson (No. 18); JaQuan Lyle (No. 19); Dwayne Morgan (No. 22); Leron Black (No. 39); Dion Wiley (No. 40); Trevon Bluiett (No. 44); JaKeenan Gant (No. 46); Ahmed Hill (No. 57); Phil Booth (No. 71); and the sting from Lyles (No. 7) and Blackmon (No. 31) will likely hit soon.
For a coaching staff that seemed to have the Midas touch in its first four years – with top-20 classes in three of those years and 2012 and 2013 classes that were top-10 in the country – the drought was strange. For fans, it has been inexplicable and often frustrating. It has to feel the same for Crean, although he can't speak to the matter because of NCAA rules.
The 2010 class, with fringe top-150 prospects Will Sheehey and Victor Oladipo, turned out all right. But fans have expected elite talent since 2012. Whether those expectations are fair for a staff that prides itself on player development is another thing. Crean is one of the best recruiters in the country, but recently hasn't looked like it.
The commitment from Johnson, who is No. 79 according to the 247Composite, will stem the tide. It also gives hope for another top-15 class in 2014, despite all the five- and four-star players IU has missed out on.
Goodluck Okonoboh (No. 23) will most likely be a Hoosier, and, at 6-9, is considered one of the best shot blockers in the nation and a top-five center. His Crystal Ball reads 100 percent for IU, with 12 analysts chiming in.
Devin Robinson (No. 35), a 6-8 small forward, is good friends with Johnson. The Crystal Ball for him points toward Connecticut with five of six picks for the Huskies, but Johnson proved these things can sometimes turn, especially as dominoes fall across the recruiting landscape.
Those three would give IU an average rating of 45.7, which should land it as one of the better three-man classes in the country. Crean could also go after a point guard in this class, and suddenly, regardless of what could have been, this class is strong – perhaps as strong in the rankings than the 2011 group that included Cody Zeller and Austin Etherington, although not as vaunted as 2012 or 2013.
Fans could accept that. Crean and his staff would take that. But although Johnson gave birth to some optimism, there's still work to be done.
Nail a couple more top targets, and all the worry is out the door. Miss, and this class won't be about the guys Crean got or the rankings of the prospects who sign.
All the talk will – and if the fall and spring end poorly, should – center on the how and why of the ones that got away.