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Eyeing IU


Analysis: Robert Johnson commitment key for Hoosiers

Thank 2014 Benedictine (Va.) School combo guard Robert Johnson for the collective sigh of relief you just heard from Indiana fans.

Johnson, a 6-foot-3 senior ranked as high as No. 42 in his class, committed to the Hoosiers on Friday, ending a drought that seemed to last a lifetime for the IU faithful. Now, they step back from the ledge, stop preparing for the sky to fall and start looking at what's to come in this class.

IU fans are passionate – sometimes illogically so, like any blue-chip program fan base – and this recruiting cycle has been particularly hard on the Hoosiers. Until Friday, they were 0-for-2014, with a couple de-commitments and a handful of whiffs on guys that were strongly considering a college career in Bloomington.

Let's start in 2010, when then-freshmen Trey Lyles of Arsenal Tech in Indianapolis and then-Bishop Luers freshman James Blackmon, Jr., committed to coach Tom Crean without having played a single college game. Once rankings for the 2014 class started rolling out, those two pushed their way to top-50 status.

Then, they were gone.

Lyles, a top-10 player in the nation, de-committed in August of 2012 and is no longer considering IU. Blackmon, a top-25 prospect, backed off his pledge a year later, but still has the Hoosiers on his radar – albeit the chances of him returning are slim.

That's compounded by Crean & Co. missing on a bunch of other options, including a pair of top-50 in-state prospects.

JaQuan Lyle of Evansvile Bosse committed to Louisville. He's since opened his recruitment, but IU isn't an option for the five-star guard. The Hoosiers stepped away from the recruitment of Trevon Bluiett, now a UCLA pledge, and that move looked like it might come back to bite IU after its out-of-state options all wound up elsewhere.

Five-star small forward Theo Pinson, a North Carolina native, went with the University of North Carolina over the Hoosiers after it looked like IU had a sure shot at him two days before his announcement.

Four-star guards Phil Booth and Dion Wiley chose Villanova and Maryland, respectively. Top-40 forward Leron Black went with Illinois, while rising four-star prospect Michael Humphrey cut IU from his list. Quentin Snider, a former Louisville commit, got a look from the Hoosiers before he trimmed his list and chose the Illini.

All those misses stung, none more than Pinson, and IU was involved to varying degrees with each of those prospects. With them gone, and the in-state options off the board, there was little left for the Hoosiers to bank on.

And the week of Johnson's commitment was the second-to-last straw.

IU lost out on Isaiah Whitehead, a top-25 guard who committed to Seton Hall, because his high school coach, Dwayne "Tiny" Morton, is lined up to take an assistant coaching job with the Pirates. The Hoosiers also had junior college forward Stephen Hurt back off because of concerns about how he would fit Crean's up-and-down style of play. Ahmed Hill, another top-50 guard, decided to cancel his official visit to Bloomington, too.

It had been nothing but doom and gloom for the Hoosiers, who in July of 2012 looked on their way to a top-10 class in 2014. Then came two decommitments and a stretch where, depending on how you look at it, 13 guys they were invested in decided to go elsewhere.

If Johnson had chosen one of his other options – North Carolina, Virginia or Florida State – Hoosier Nation would likely be in panic mode at the moment. But now, there's a good bit of hope that the ones that got away won't hurt the Hoosiers as much in the long run.

Will this be a top-10 class? Most likely not. Will it be anywhere close to as good as it would be if Lyles and Blackmon had stuck with the program? Certainly not. Despite that, there is a good chance that Crean will pull in one of the better three-man classes in the country, or perhaps do a bit better than that.

Top-40 small forward Devin Robinson, who has taken official visits to Oklahoma State and Notre Dame, is good friends with Johnson and a top target for IU at the moment. Johnson told reporters after his commitment that his first call will be to the 6-foot-8 swingman, who is one of the better shooters in the country.

The Hoosiers are still a favorite to land five-star center Goodluck Okonoboh, as well. The 6-9 prospect is a former teammate of Noah Vonleh on the AAU circuit, a top-25 player and considered the best shot blocker in this class.

Along with all that, there's a slim chance another guard could join the fold, with Lourawls Nairn on an official visit to Bloomington this weekend. The three-star point guard also has Oklahoma and Michigan State after him.

Then, there's Dante Exum, a 6-6 floor general and Australia native. Due to international early entry rules, he could go to the NBA and by most projections be a lottery pick in the 2014 draft. However, he took an official visit to IU in January and still could wind up on a college campus next fall.

How this all shakes out remains to be seen, and as the time from the Lyles decommitment to Johnson's pledge shows, there is little – if anything – that is certain in recruiting.

This does take the pressure off, though, for Crean and the fan base. If the Hoosiers can close this class with a couple more commitments, or on the high end three, then IU could be very happy with its haul, and rightly so.

And with Johnson in the fold, Crean will likely finish strong from here.