Human Interest


If it weren’t bad enough that Indiana got blown out in the Big Ten tournament, it’s worse that in the past 15 years, only four Indiana Mr. Basketballs have gone to IU, and of those four, only two have had any significant impact on the success of the basketball team. That’s right. Of the list of the best high school basketball players in the state of Indiana, chosen by The Indianapolis Star, only four of the last 15 Mr. Basketballs have gone to IU. In fact, since 1998, there have been 26 Mr. Basketballs and only 9 have played for Indiana University. That sounds like sour grapes, but I certainly wish those other 17 young Hoosier basketball stars wouldn’t have chosen to play basketball at rival schools. Why do they do that? Well, I don’t know for sure, but later I will offer my opinions. 

First, though, I want to review who did play for IU and who I think had a significant impact during their time on the team. In 1998, Tom Coverdale was Mr. Basketball. He teamed up with Jared Jeffries, the 2000 Mr Basketball on the 2001-2002 IU team that played U Conn in the NCAA championship game. IU lost, but Coverdale and Jeffries contributed to an IU team that overachieved under the coaching “leadership” of Mike Davis. Theirs was a team driven by a high degree of emotion from the firing of Coach Bob Knight. 

The 2004 Mr. Basketball was A.J Ratliff. He played four years, but was not a memorable player on teams that finished 4th, 5th, and 3rd twice in the Big Ten. The 2007 Mr. Basketball was Eric Gordon who spent the ‘07-‘08 season at IU before beginning an NBA career that has continued to this day. He was IU’s leading scorer as a freshman, and played the year Kelvin Sampson was fired. Gordon was the team leader so his impact was certainly important. That season was followed by the disastrous 6-25 (1-17) first year coached by Tom Crean. The firing of Kelvin Sampson left every roster spot open so Crean’s first year was rough. The 2009 and 2011 Mr. Basketballs, Jordan Hulls and Cody Zeller, respectively, chose IU and teamed with Victor Oladipo and Christian Watford. Their 2012-‘13 team won the regular season Big Ten championship and finished the season ranked 4th in the nation. Zeller and Oladipo were drafted 2nd and 4th in the 2013 NBA draft and have both had long-lasting professional careers. 

The Mr. Basketballs from 2012 to 2017 (6 players) went to Michigan State, Michigan, Kentucky, Purdue, Virginia, and UCLA. The next three, Romeo Langford (‘18), Trayce Jackson-Davis (‘19), and Anthony Leal (‘20) went to IU. In my opinion, only Jackson-Davis made an impact on the success of the team. Langford was “injured” much of his only season at IU and did not have a memorable tenure with the team. He entered the NBA draft and was the 12th player chosen. What I remember most about the evening of the draft was when after he was chosen, he bragged to the interviewer, “I knew I was a lottery pick!” I was glad he lasted only one year at IU. His ego was bigger than the IU campus. Leal, a Bloomington native, has been at IU four years and finally got playing time late this season. He did make the winning play twice in games this season. Otherwise his career has been unimpressive. 

The last three Mr. Basketball winners, Caleb Furst (‘21), Braden Smith (‘22), and Markus Burton (‘23) “got away.” They went to Purdue, Purdue, and Notre Dame, respectively. Smith has been an impactful player starting at point guard in each of his first two years, while Furst is Zach Edey’s substitute and has not had an impressive career.  

When you look around the Big Ten you see a lot of other Indiana high school players who chose another college over IU. They weren’t Mr. Basketball, but had enough talent to be noticed by other teams. Currently there are four such players. Tony Perkins at Iowa, Brooks Barnhiser at Northwestern, Connor Essegian at Wisconsin, and Luke Goode at Illinois. Barnhiser and Perkins are starters and have done their best to torch IU when they play against them. I guess not being recruited by a team from your home state adds a little extra motivation to play well, eg. Perkins had 22 points in Iowa’s narrow loss to IU, January 30.  

I’ve tried to understand why so many “star” players choose colleges other than IU. Of course, my bias says they should all love IU and choose to play there, but I know better. Every athlete is different. Each has his own idea of what he wants and expects. Some have bigger egos than others and make unreasonable requests (demands). Here’s my list of reasons the big stars go elsewhere:

The athlete doesn’t relate to any aspect of Indiana University—the campus, the student body, 

     the dorm, the academic course of study, the athlete is homesick.

IU traditions have no meaning to the athlete. 

The athlete’s parents are alums of another university and have talked up their alma mater.

The recruiting visit was unsatisfactory. The player felt uncomfortable with the situation.

The player and coach don’t gel, and teammates don’t mix well.

The player’s expectations for playing time were not met. 

Opportunity for Name, Image, Likeness (NIL) income is limited. 

Until recently, legitimate money was not an issue. There have always been blue-chip players, though, who are “taken care of” under-the-table by wealthy, generous alums. But now, with players making millions of dollars from NIL payments, an athlete might choose the school that offers him the most opportunities for NIL dollars. 

Whatever the reason, an athlete is going to choose what he hopes is the right fit for him. And that choice in the past 25 years, the majority of the time, has not been Indiana University. I don’t see that trend changing in the future. The culture has changed, yes, but the results have been disappointing. Getting quality players has always been the goal, but some players don’t live up to expectations. I don’t see the IU program moving to where we want it to be under the present situation. Hopefully I’m wrong, and things will improve, but I have big doubts.

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  1. You have taken an in-depth look at this situation. I feel there is no real solution to this problem.

    1. There probably isn’t. A lot of good Indiana players “get away.” The best two players in the Seton Hall-ISU game were guys from Indianapolis. There’s a guy on NC State from Perry Meridian. It just goes on and on.

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