Blackmon, Johnson sign with Hoosiers
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP)
For a while, Indiana fans braced for a rough recruiting year. Two huge signings on Thursday left coach Tom Crean feeling ecstatic and let fans breathe a sigh of relief.
Almost three months after reopening his college search, 6-foot-2 shooting guard James Blackmon Jr. recommitted to Indiana and ended any lingering doubts about his future plans by signing a national letter-of-intent to play with the Hoosiers.
Robert Johnson of Chesterfield, Va., a 6-3 shooting guard, also signed Thursday to play for Indiana.
''We addressed our needs with a capital `N,''' Crean said. ''We're ecstatic with this class. They're winners. We hit on getting people from excellent families that are well-coached.''
The signings should boost Indiana's perimeter scoring and quickness. Crean expressed confidence that a partnership of Blackmon and Johnson would work in the backcourt. Both are good outside shooters.
''They can play without the ball,'' Crean said. ''When you're skilled, they can play together. One of our benchmarks is versatility. We felt the two of them could play together and could be phenomenal.''
After watching another prized recruit, Trey Lyles, decommit from the Hoosiers and choose rival Kentucky, fans were understandably nervous when Blackmon decided to take a second look in August.
Blackmon did visit Kentucky - where his father and current high school coach, James, played - along with three other schools with national championship credentials and future title aspirations: Kansas, Michigan and Michigan State.
''Everybody else wanted him, too,'' Crean said. ''It was all worth it. You've got to have a contingency plan for the contingency plan. It was worth waiting for James. We were willing to be in the fight. It helped him appreciate Indiana that much more.''
Unlike Lyles, who signed with Kentucky on Wednesday, Blackmon wound up going back to where he started.
''Every school that I was looking into hard was a great fit,'' Blackmon said in a phone interview Wednesday night. ''But Indiana is where my heart is. I trust coach Crean and the players. We have a good relationship.''
As Indiana (2-0) prepared to face Samford and former Hoosiers assistant Bennie Seltzer on Friday night, a young, talented roster added even more promising parts to a bright future.
''I think they're a great team right now,'' Blackmon said of the Hoosiers. ''The pieces that will be there next year and then adding me and the other recruits will help them get back and be one of the top teams in the country.''
Blackmon's decision was another indication of how strong they've been at recruiting one of the nation's most talent-rich basketball states.
Indiana has signed at least one of the state's top recruits three times in the last four years - Cody Zeller in 2010, Kevin ''Yogi'' Ferrell and Hanner Mosquera-Perea in 2011 and now Blackmon. A year ago, the Hoosiers had two in-state players in their six-man class, widely ranked among the top 10 in the nation. Devin Davis has gotten regular minutes in the Hoosiers' first two games, while Colin Hartman has played sparingly.
But Blackmon is a prolific scorer with a sparkling resume.
''In my mind we got the absolute best player in the state of Indiana,'' Crean said. ''James has an ability to do so much. He's just scratching the surface.''
Last season, Blackmon topped the 40-point mark six times and averaged 33.3 points for Fort Wayne Luers. This season, he will play at Marion (Ind.) High School, located between Fort Wayne and Indianapolis, where his father is now coaching. Barring injury, he'll be a big-time scorer again, this time at a program that has five state titles and produced former Indiana stars Jay Edwards and Lyndon Jones.
Blackmon and Johnson will be joined in Indiana's recruiting class by 6-7 forward Max Hoetzel. He was expected to sign Thursday, too. NCAA rules prohibited Crean from commenting on Hoetzel until his signed letter was received by the school.
They didn't stop Blackmon from talking, and he is clearly content with his final choice.
''I'm really excited to play for my home state and I think I can make an impact there,'' Blackmon said. ''A lot of people want me to go there, I want to go there.''