Tom Crean stayed cool instead of raging hot, kept channels open rather than burn bridges.
Did it pay off? You bet, Crean said. Was the drama worth it? Darn right, he added. He said he signed Indiana's best player. Better yet, he got one of the nation's top shooters, and if you've seen the Hoosiers shoot lately, you know how good that is.
Crean spoke Thursday evening after getting Blackmon's signed national letter of intent, thus making it official that the former Bishop Luers standout will be a Hoosier next year. Virginia guard Robert Johnson also signed. Hoosier officials were still waiting to receive the national letter from Massachusetts forward Max Hoetzel.
“James is a phenomenal shooter with phenomenal range,” Crean said. “He's getting better every day with his ball handling, with his driving. He's one of the best open court players I have ever been part of recruiting.”
Recruiting experts agree. Blackmon is considered a top-25 prospect by every national recruiting service.
“He's just scratching the surface as a player,” Crean said. “He is going to become a guy that is going to be able to handle that ball. He's got point guard skills. He has got versatility, and he's got a want to, and again, he just knows how to play. He knows how to win. He can fit in any environment.”
Blackmon committed to IU before he started his high school career. But last summer, he realized he was missing out on the recruiting process. He wanted to visit other schools, including Kentucky, where his father, James Blackmon Sr., went. So he de-committed and the Hoosier nation erupted.
Some coaches would have told Blackmon good riddance. In truth, most of the time a player decommits, he doesn't go back (remember Indianapolis Tech's Trey Lyles?).
But Blackmon always said Indiana was at the top of a list that included Kansas, Michigan, Michigan State and North Carolina. Crean and associate head coach Tim Buckley, who also was heavily involved in Blackmon's recruiting, believed him.
“At that time, I got it about why he decommitted,” Crean said. “He had never been anywhere else. He had never seen another school.
“Sometimes people can decommit, and it's the best thing that can happen for you. That wasn't the case with James. We really wanted him to be here. We were willing to be in the fight, and that's what it was because everybody wanted him. He's an outstanding player. He got a chance to see some great programs.
“It helped the relationship to not only grow, but to cement. It helped him appreciate Indiana that much more.”
Added Buckley: “His family explained it was because he needed to see some other things. We felt in the long run, because he was somebody we really wanted here, it would only make the bond grow stronger. That's exactly what it did. Now he feels even more excited and positive about his decision.”
Crean said he wasn't sure Blackmon was coming until his Halloween night halftime appearance at the Troy-Louisiana Monroe football game when he picked the Hoosiers again.
“Oh, it changed,” Crean said about his confidence in getting Blackmon. “It changed by the minute. We knew we were in it.
“The wait was worth it. We always thought this was the best place for him. We have a pretty good idea what he needs to do to be as successful as he wants to be. We know where he wants to go. We have a pretty good idea of how he's going to get there.”
Blackmon, Johnson (rated No. 42 in the Class of 2014) and Hoetzel are known for their shooting. The class is rated No. 13 nationally by Rivals.com.
“We addressed our needs with a capital N, so to speak, in the way that we recruited,” Crean said.
This culminated a turbulent recruiting period in which Blackmon and Lyles committed in 2010, and then decommitted. Lyles ended up with Kentucky. IU lost out on such heralded recruits as Goodluck Okonoboh (UNLV), Devin Robinson (Florida), Theo Pinson (North Carolina), Lourawls Nairn (Michigan State) and Isaiah Whitehead (Seton Hall).
“You've got to continue to recruit, recruit and recruit, and you'd better have flexibility,” Crean said. “You'd better have thick skin. You'd better not get your feelings hurt, and you'd better be able to adjust on the fly.
“But at the same time, you never get away from what the priorities are. So I think what happens is you've got to have a plan, then another plan, then a contingency plan and then a contingency plan for the contingency plan. You just do.”
Is it possible IU could sign another player in the spring, such as a fifth-year senior transfer or another high school prospect?
“You never stop recruiting,” Crean said.