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Indiana-bound Latham showcases two-sport prowess

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For more on recruiting, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at pdiprimio.

Defensive tackle vies for basketball All-Star role

Monday, April 8, 2013 - 12:01 am

INDIANAPOLIS -- Darius Latham's not-on-my basketball territory moment put Indiana All-Star hopeful Anthony Johnson on the hardwood floor. Impressive? You bet. Enlightening? Absolutely.

Latham is a defensive lineman unlike any Indiana has signed in the last, well, perhaps ever. He is 6-6 and approaching 300 pounds. You would not expect him to be a basketball player, certainly not one good enough to be vying for a shot at Indiana's All-Star team.

And yet, here he was Sunday afternoon at Marian University. Latham was one of the biggest participants in Hoosier Basketball Magazine's Top-60 workout, designed to help pick the Indiana team that will face its Kentucky counterparts in the annual all-star series.

Johnson, a 6-3 guard, was powering for a basket when Latham stopped him with a jarring block/foul that left Johnson on his back. Johnson got up, but the message, to borrow a phrase from Lord of the Rings, was clear:

Thou Shalt Not Pass.

Or something like that.

Anyway, Latham showed the athleticism and quickness that made him a standout on the AAU basketball circuit as well as for the Indianapolis North Central basketball team. It's why he has a chance to be a basketball All-Star.

It is not, however, the reason he will attend Indiana University. He's a football player with a huge upside. He's rated as the nation's No. 14 defensive tackle and the state's No. 7 overall player by Rivals.com, a national Internet recruiting service. He is one of five four-star players in the Hoosiers' 23-player freshman class and his potential -- he had originally committed to perennial national power Wisconsin -- has coach Kevin Wilson eagerly anticipating his arrival.

“I like watching him at a basketball game,” Wilson said. “His eyes are so intense. He's into the game. He's a great athlete.

“I watched him practice last October. That day he was moving better than anybody we had on the field. It will be interesting to see, when he transitions in, will we get what I saw?

“He's a great kid. He's from a great family. He's a good student. It's a nice get for us.”

Latham fits Wilson's multi-sport preference. In an era when more and more players are specializing in one sport, Wilson likes the versatile guys.

“I struggle sometimes recruiting a kid to play Big Ten football who doesn't play another sport,” Wilson said. “I like when you have a kid who does track, or wrestles or plays baseball. You have to go one on one. You either win or lose. There's a lot of pressure in competitive situations.

“The more we recruit athletes who know how to compete, the better our recruiting is. I like guys who play a bunch of sports.”

That's good because Latham has never been a one-sport-only guy.

“I've been playing basketball my whole life,” he said. “It's something I grew up loving, and love to do.”

That love showed on Sunday whether he was part of a one-man full-court press, battling inside for rebounds, trying to block shots or launching perimeter jumpers. Sure, he tired, as the 10-minute pickup games mounted and the two-hour workout drew to a close, but that's to be expected given it's been about a month since his North Central basketball season ended.

“I'm trying to get back into basketball,” he said. “I've also been doing football workouts. I've been trying to balance both of them.”

It's a balancing act he's done for a long time.

“I had to adapt to it,” he said. “It's natural now.”

Indianapolis Warren Central's Devin Davis, who has signed to play basketball for the Hoosiers, has seen Latham's adaptation first hand. He's played basketball with and against Latham over the years and is fully aware of Latham's ability.

“It doesn't go unnoticed,” Davis said. “We know what he can do. You wouldn't expect somebody of his size to be able to do it, but he does.”

Latham's basketball skills figures to help him when he gets to Indiana. He said he wants to be quicker and faster than his offensive line opponents, “on every play.”

“(Playing basketball) helps me tremendously. It gives me an advantage.”

Latham plans to report to Indiana on June 3, although if he makes the Indiana All-Star team, his time will be taken up with basketball commitments until basically the beginning of July.

“I look to enjoy this last (two months) of basketball,” he said.

Latham has toyed with the idea of going out for the IU basketball team after the football season. Wilson and coach Tom Crean haven't shot down that idea, although it would be a major challenge. Former Hoosier football players Antwaan Randle El and James Hardy (the former Elmhurst High School standout), tried it for a year and quickly discovered the football-basketball double was too much.

“Right now it's just football at Indiana,” Latham said. “That's what I'm focusing on. As the (football) season goes on, I'll see how my body feels. That's when a decision will be made.”

For now Latham is focused on gaining about “10 more pounds of muscle” and improve his strength so he's “on the level of other college players.”

But then, Latham figues to be on another level. The Hoosiers wouldn't want it any other way.