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January 25, 2012

A special class in Indiana

Indiana is not a big state. Land size wise it's the smallest state in the continental United States located west of the Appalachian Mountains. It's population of around 6.5 million (per 2010 census) is a small fraction of states like California, New York, Texas and Florida.

When it comes to producing Division I men's basketball talent, however, Indiana produces like or even better than those big states. Almost every year the number of Division I players per capita exceed most other states and never has that been more true than with the current seniors, the Class of 2012.

College coaches are feasting on all the talent among these seniors. Brandon Bradley of Scouting Indiana has tried to document the signings and commitments to Division I and has helped us compile a list of early period signees. These include players that played high school in the state or maintain Indiana residency:

The Big Ten signed 14 players with Indiana ties in November:

Indiana (5) - Kevin Ferrell (Park Tudor), Jeremy Hollowell (Lawrence Central), Ron Patterson (Broad Ripple), Hanner Perea (La Lumiere), Peter Jurkin (Indiana residency)
Purdue (4) - Ronnie Johnson (North Central), Rapheal Davis (La Lumiere), Jay Simpson (La Lumiere), A.J. Hammons (ex-Carmel)
Michigan (2) - Glenn Robinson Jr., (Lake Central), Mitch McGary (ex-Chesterton)
Michigan State (1) - Gary Harris (Hamilton Southeastern)
Northwestern (1) - Aleksander Olah (Traders Point Christian)
Iowa (1) - Patrick Ingram (North Central)

Other BCS Conference signings:

Big East (4): Georgetown/D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera (ex-North Central), Notre Dame/Austin Burgett (Avon), DePaul/DeJuan Marrero (Gary Bowman), West Virginia/Eron Harris (Lawrence North)
ACC (1): Clemson/Adonis Filer (ex-Hammond Noll)

That's 19 players even though there are at least two players (Kellen Dunham and R.J. Hunter) that could have signed with high major programs:

Including those two, here's a rundown of the mid and low-major signees:

Horizon (6) - Butler/Kellen Dunham (Pendleton Heights), Youngstown State/Ryan Weber (Roncalli), Wright State/J.T. Yoho (Eastern Greene), Loyola/Nick Osborne (Muncie Central), Loyola/Matt O'Leary (Terre Haute North), Detroit/Brent Calhoun (Warren Central)
Mid-American (4) - Ball State/Michael Ramey (Southport), Ball State/Kyran Calhoun (South Bend Washington), Daveon Balls/Northern Illinois (Lawrence North), Kent State/Kellon Thomas (Southport)
Atlantic Sun
(4): Belmont/Jeff Laidig (Penn), Jacksonville/Tyler Alderman (Fishers), Stetson/Logan Irwin (Whitko), Northern Kentucky/Todd Johnson (Elkhart Memorial)
Missouri Valley
(3) - Evansville/D.J. Balentine (Kokomo), Indiana State/Rhett Smith (Sullivan), Southern Illinois/Antonio Drummond (La Lumiere)
Summit (2) - IPFW/Joe Reed (Center Grove), IUPUI/Elijah Ray (Gary Bowman)
Southland (2): Lamar/Jason Smith (Ind. Manual), Lamar/Donnell Minton (Ind. Northwest)
Other (5): Georgia State/R.J, Hunter (Pike), New Mexico/Obij Aget (La Lumiere), St. Louis/Jared Drew (Cathedral), Robert Morris/Stephan Hawkins (Gary Bowman), Manhattan/Paul Bayt (Park Tudor)

If you add that all up it comes to 45 Division I signees, and that's just for the early signing period.

Another group of players have held Division I offers but remain uncommitted. Here are just a few:

4th year players: Harry Willis (Ben Davis), Jacobby Bledsoe (Hamilton SE), Mislav Brzoja (Traders Point Christian), Adeleke Solanke (Marquette Catholic), Matej Buovac (La Lumiere)
5th year players: Ryan Taylor (ex-Lawrence North), Michael Chandler (ex-Lawrence North), Isaiah Hill (ex-North Central), Jeremiah Jones (ex-Merrillville), Cheir Ajou (ex-Culver Academy)

Then there are long list of prospects that may or may not have a Division I offer, but are definitely receiving regular interest. Some are clearly Division I talents but have academic work to do to ensure a firm offer.

"No fewer than 20-30 other prospects are holding Division I offers or receiving Division I interest to the point of a potential offer," says Bradley.

When all is said and done the number of Division I signings with Indiana ties could approach 60 or more players.

"A 'typical' class for Indiana sees roughly 30-35 prospects head off to Division I schools," said Bradley.

Quality as well

The Class of 2012 has quality as well as quantity. Currently five players (McGary, Harris, Ferrell, Perea, Smith-Rivera) rank among the top 25 nationally according to Rivals.com. That's five-star territory and the kind of ranking that usually gets a player into the 24-man McDonald's All-American game. When you add in fast rising wings Glenn Robinson Jr. and Jeremy Hollowell, seven players make the top 50. Currently 14 players listed above are in the Rivals150.

Rivals national recruiting analyst Eric Bossi talks about why the state can seem to produce talent well beyond what it's population suggests.

"One, the state is basketball crazy and I think that's pretty obvious. But on top of that, there looks to be a very strong foundation of coaches and youth programs available to kids who are interested in the sport so they are developing from a very young age and it shows with how much college talent the state produces," said Bossi.

Football is growing in popularity in Indiana thanks to the success of the Indianapolis Colts but you find just one Hoosier state player, QB Gunner Kiel, among the top 150 players per Rivals.

"I get the sense that players from Indiana take the game (of basketball) a lot more seriously than kids from many other states," said Bossi. "When I talk to kids from the state they seem to have a great feel for what is going on around them and what is going on with the other kids around them and the schools in the state. I feel like there's a lot more basketball work being put in on the floor and off the floor in terms of staying up on things within the basketball community and working on their game."

Taking advantage

As detailed above, Indiana and Purdue took advantage of the nearby talent. With this year's move of Jay Simpson from Illinois to La Lumiere in La Porte, all nine players signed by the two schools have in-state ties.

During the the Big Ten coaches preseason meetings, we asked Purdue coach Matt Painter about the exceptional in-state talent.

"If you take Ohio, you take Michigan, you take Illinois as states, they have twice as many high schools as the state of Indiana," said Painter. "So if you start it right there, with half the high schools, then you look at all the players, it really puts it into perspective how good our state really is."

Indiana's five-man class ranked as the nation's best almost up until signing day. Rivals.com still ranks as the number two overall to this point, trailing an Arizona class that includes four top 50 ranked prospects.

"It worked out really well," said Indiana head coach Tom Crean. "The state of Indiana has always been one that's deserved the respect and accolades that it gets, and this class -- you can put this, per capita, with anybody out there. We may not be as big as certain states, but when you go per capita and you look at square footage, whatever you want to look at, this state is unbelievable, and it's going to continue to be that way."

Even though Purdue Class of 2007 group was a very heralded one that helped the Boilermakers go 15-3 in the Big Ten their freshman season in West Lafayette, Matt Painter made the point that the proof comes later than signing day.

"I think the up cycle happens in two, three, four or five years," said Painter. "I don't want a good recruit, I want a good player. We get carried away with that. This guy's three stars, four stars, five stars. Chris Kramer was a one star and I'll take him over a lot of people. Nobody thought Rob Hummel was going to be Rob Hummel. E'Twaun Moore was a top 30/40 guys and then the numbers that he was able to put up. I had some people say JaJuan Johnson couldn't play in the Big Ten."

Indiana's big payoff was this current senior class but in-state emphasis was there from the start.

"That was the intention the whole time was to be able to recruit Indiana," said Crean. "I mean we go back to it in the sense of signing Jordan (Hulls) and Derek (Elston), but even Bobby (Capobianco) was an Indiana Elite guy so we saw him that way. When we really started to learn the state, you could tell that it was going to continue to take off. There's other names which we can't talk about that we did recruit or didn't recruit and all along the way, you could tell it was going to be a special year in this state. We're just so glad that these guys really wanted to do it in their home state."

How well they do it is the question now but by sheer numbers alone, this in-state class seems destined to leave a lasting impact across the college basketball world.



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