Cody Zeller’s college announcement was every bit as important as the Indiana fans have made it out to be.
Maybe even more so.
No, Zeller wasn’t rated the No. 1 prospect in America like Harrison Barnes was last year when he had the recruiting world on hold. He isn’t a top five prospect like Marquis Teague was when he held Louisville and Kentucky hostage in May.
Zeller’s decision to stay home and play for Indiana could have a bigger impact than both.
North Carolina is used to getting five-star prospects. They reeled in two more this year. Kentucky’s recruiting momentum has reached an unprecedented level since John Calipari arrived in Lexington.
At Indiana, things have been different.
When Tom Crean took over, he didn’t quite realize the rebuilding process would take this long or be this difficult.
Zeller admitted it wouldn’t be easy, but he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be part of the turnaround.
“Growing up in the state I think it‘ll mean a lot to play in the state and represent the state,” Zeller said. “I think we’ll have a good team.”
Truth is it’s been rough for Indiana and their fans the past couple of years.
Slowly, though, Crean has made headway. He has a head start on his 2012 class with three pledges and he even has a pair of highly regarded 2014 prospects – Trey Lyles and James Blackmon -- on board.
But Zeller’s commitment is crucial. This is the one that legitimizes Indiana again.
Much like Joe Jackson let the city of Memphis know it was OK to play for Josh Pastner, Zeller’s commitment to Indiana will give Crean a chance to reclaim a state that has recently been dominated by Purdue, Xavier, Louisville and Ohio State.
Other recruits are going to take notice.
Top five 2012 point guard Kevin Ferrell, who happens to be one Zeller’s best friends, was watching. So were 2012 wings Gary Harris and Jeremy Hollowell.
Maybe they’ll jump on board. Maybe they won’t.
What we do know is Indiana is on the road to being relevant again. For now it’s in recruiting circles, and maybe soon it will translate to the hardwood.
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