BOZICH | A Fresh Look At James Blackmon, Derek Willis
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The final footnote to the unexpected decision by James Blackmon Jr. to re-commit to Indiana instead of going with Kentucky or Michigan Thursday night is simple:
IU coach Tom Crean handled Blackmon's surprising de-commitment last summer with a thoughtful and analytical approach. He did not walk away. He kept working. And, in the end, Crean won.
That wasn't the response when Trey Lyles, another Indiana high school star, reopened his recruiting a year earlier.
When Lyles said he planned to look at other schools in 2011, the Indiana coaching staff was finished with him. Done. Over. Move on. They never showed up at another Lyles' workout at Indianapolis Tech High School.
Lyles, a skilled power forward with NBA potential, will choose either Kentucky or Louisville later this month or in the spring.
That wasn't the reaction to the Blackmon de-commitment. Crean and his assistants did not write off Blackmon.
"I appreciate the way Indiana stayed with James," Blackmon's father, James, told Dan Dakich on ESPN 1070 The Fan radio in Indianapolis Friday. "They could have gone in another direction."
They made trips to Marion High School, where Blackmon will play for his father, James, a Wildcat who played for Joe B. Hall and Eddie Sutton. They convinced him that the IU offense was built for a dependable three-point shooter like Blackmon. Check the video of the three-pointers that Jordan Hulls, Victor Oladipo and Christian Watford made in Bloomington.
They made certain that Blackmon understood he was welcome in Assembly Hall whenever he wanted to make the 135-mile drive from north central Indiana.
That distance was a major advantage for Indiana. The Blackmons are a close family with two younger sons. Getting to home games in Bloomington is easier than getting to Lexington. Getting to road games in East Lansing, West Lafayette and Evanston is much, much easier than traveling to College Station, Gainesville and Starkville.
Crean's patience and persistence prevailed.
Kentucky, as always, will be fine. Although John Calipari has endured more misses than usual in UK's 2014 recruiting class, he has secured commitments from two other guards – Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker. He wanted Blackmon. But with Booker on board, Kentucky can focus on Lyles and Stanley Johnson, the forward from Los Angeles.
Look at what Calipari has at the shooting guard position. Freshman Aaron Harrison is talented, but hardly a lock to jump into the 2014 NBA Draft. At 6-5, Booker has two inches on Blackmon.
Don't forget this name: Luke Kennard.
He's another 6-5 guard in the Class of 2015. Although he plays in Franklin, Ohio, Kennard has strong ties to the state of Kentucky, and the word is that Calipari and his staff have already made him a recruiting priority.
Here's a word that I've rarely heard to describe Calipari: giddy.
But that's one word that an observer close to the program used Friday when describing the coach's reaction to the way that freshman Derek Willis of Bullitt East has performed since UK practice began.
Giddy because Willis has played without fear. Giddy because Willis has shown a willingness to defend and rebound. Giddy because Willis has shot the basketball as well as advertised.
But there is one other reason: Derek Willis will be at least a three-year college player. Calipari has recruited several top high school players who have stayed two years and then jumped to the NBA – Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb top that list. But most of his top recruits have been one-year guys.
If Willis stays and succeeds, Calipari can combat one of the topics used against him in recruiting: that he does not develop players.
"Plus, he's a Kentucky kid who understands the tradition," the observer said. "Cal just gets giddy talking about him."
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