College football isn't basketball, especially in recruiting. Keep that in mind. Kevin Wilson isn't about to walk an inch in Tom Crean's offering-eighth-graders-a-scholarship shoes.
Wilson coaches Indiana football and going young, as Crean sometimes does with the Hoosiers' basketball recruiting, isn't part of the plan.
Quite simply, football is too physical a sport. If you can't handle that, if you can't grow into that, you have no chance at the Big Ten level.
If you saw IU play football last year, you know Wilson needs guys who can provide a winning chance. He has to know what he's getting, or at least have a good idea, and that takes time. It's why he and his staff don't begin targeting players until they're at least high school sophomores, and only if they're playing varsity.
Would Wilson ever recruit an eighth- or ninth-grader?
“Shoot no, unless it's my kids,” he says.
For the record, Wilson has five kids and two sons, Trey and Toby. Neither is yet an eighth-grader.
While Wilson says he doesn't recruit very young players, he does come in contact with them during summer camps. He says he remembers one impressive eighth-grader during a camp while he was coaching at Oklahoma.
“As an eighth-grader, he was my demonstrator,” Wilson says. “I'd tell him, you're pretty good. It eventually came down to Oklahoma and Texas, and he went to Texas.
“It happens every once in a while that you stumble into something (a talented young recruit), but we're not doing that. We never look at JV (film). We start with 10th-graders on varsity and then with guys who have great junior years. Those are the ones you jump on first. The hard ones are the guys who come on late. You have to filter through and figure out why they're coming on late. Are they good enough?”
The nature of basketball, which doesn't demand the physical presence of football, has enabled Crean to target younger players. He recently offered a scholarship to Indianapolis eighth-grader Eron Gordon, the younger brother of former IU All-America and current NBA player Eric Gordon. He previously offered scholarships to James Blackmon and Trey Lyles before either had entered high school. Blackmon is wrapping up his sophomore year at Bishop Luers. Lyles is finishing his sophomore year at Indianapolis Tech.
While offering that young carries risk, it's not nearly as great as what it would be in football. For Wilson, risk diminishes by the time a player is a sophomore.
“In the top programs in Indianapolis, if a kid is playing a significant number of varsity minutes as a sophomore, he's going to have a chance to be one heck of a high school player,” Wilson says. “Does he have the physical attributes to play college? Certainly going into the junior year you can see that.
“We're hitting all the juniors now. We can't talk to them, but we can go see them. You can catch somebody in the weight room, track practice, after school practice, baseball, whatever.
“You try to identify early, but you have to be cautious, especially with in-state kids.”
When you offer an in-state player, Wilson adds, you have to assume that player will accept.
“The farther away you go for a recruit, you can throw an offer out there because you know he won't take it right away. The closer you are you have to be a little bit more guarded. You have to make sure because there's a chance the home guy is going to come.
“Sometimes with those guys from far away, you're just throwing your name in the hat to try to get in the race. You're not expecting a commitment. Sometimes it's an assistant coach saying you've got an offer, but is that a real offer? You can't do anything in writing until their senior year, anyway.”
As Wilson found out with Columbus quarterback Gunner Kiel, getting a commitment from an in-state player doesn't mean it will stick. Kiel committed to the Hoosiers last summer before his senior season, then backed out, and wound up at Notre Dame.
IU is set to bring in 25 newcomers for the Class of 2013. Eight are from the state of Indiana, and four are from central Indiana powerhouse high school programs Warren Central, Ben Davis and Carmel.
Next season Wilson figures to sign around 20 players, with the focus more on speed.
“We need corners, receivers,” he says. “Some guys who give us some big-play ability.”
What they won't give, it seems, is middle school uncertainty.