JUSTIN KENNY: What if Romeo Langford isn’t the most important 2018 recruit for Indiana?

Is Romeo Langford REALLY the most important piece to Indiana's recruiting class? (Associated Press file photo)
McCutcheon guard Robert Phinisee averaged 29.4 points and 5.8 assists this past season for the Mavericks. (Associated Press file photo)

On April 30 when he makes his college choice, Romeo Langford will become either one of the most loved Hoosiers of all time or one of the most despised.

It is likely at this point that the former will be correct.

But what if I was to tell you that Romeo Langford is NOT the most important recruit for the Indiana University Hoosiers in the Class of 2018?

Oh, I’m dead serious.

Now is about the time that most will stop reading this, go to Twitter or their nearest IU basketball message board, and call me names. Just save yourself some time. I’m married, so I’ve been called every name in the book.

So hear me out.

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Since the departure of Yogi Ferrell following the 2015-16 season, Indiana has struggled to find a true, dual-threat point guard. Josh Newkirk was not the answer. Robert Johnson was probably the guard with the best passing skills over the last two years, but he was a natural two guard.

Devonte Green? Inconsistency has been the lone consistent trait of the combo guard over two seasons.

Al Durham? Eh, maybe.

Numbers back up the narrative. This past season, Indiana ranked 119th in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio, near the likes of Jacksonville State and Santa Clara. To be fair, this is a tremendous improvement from the 2016-17 campaign when the Hoosiers ranked 236th. But it is still far from good. Three of this year’s Final Four teams ranked in the top 19 in the statistic, with Loyola-Chicago (68th) the outlier.

The Hoosiers also ranked 121st in the nation in assists per game, tied with Fort Wayne, you know, that Summit League program that has punked IU in back-to-back years.

Despite Langford’s elite scoring ability and five-star status, he is not the guy that, long-term, holds the key to a hoops resurgence in Bloomington.

Hoosier fans, your most important recruit is point guard Robert Phinisee.

The senior concluded his McCutcheon career as one of only 53 prep basketball players in Indiana to surpass 2,000 career points. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound point averaged 29.4 points and 5.8 assists per game in his final year with the Mavericks. He is as smooth of a scorer in this state this side of Romeo with exceptional court vision and the knowledge and skill needed to develop into one of the best college point guards in the country.

But most important of all, unlike Romeo, Phinisee will be an Indiana Hoosier for multiple seasons.

Yes, landing Romeo will be huge for Indiana. It will give Coach Archie Miller and the Hoosiers a five-star in-state talent to immediately insert into a lineup that desperately needs an influx of elite. It could, COULD influence the likes of Keion Brooks Jr. and Trayce Jackson-Davis as IU zeroes in on the best in the Class of 2019.

But what does Romeo get you long term? If he delivers as advertised at the college level, Indiana will have him for one year. If Hoosier Nation is lucky enough that he pulls a Miles Bridges, you stretch that to two years.

Are two years enough to return Indiana to college basketball’s elite? Does Romeo unlock the doors into the living rooms of other five-star talents in the coming years?

Those questions are open for debate. But you know what isn’t?

Duke has four of the top 12 Class of 2018 prospects (according to 247sports.com) locked up. That’s four Romeos.

Kentucky has three of the top 20 players in this class – all five-star guys. That’s arguably three Romeos.

Conclusion: Landing a single Romeo Langford does not put you among the Dukes and Kentuckys of the world.

But landing a Phinisee? A guy who could end up being a three-year starter at the point (I am predicting he does not start as a true frosh)? Someone who has the moxie, selflessness, and versatility to be a true floor leader for the Hoosiers?

Let’s take a look at the Final Four teams this year and examine their point guards.

Kansas had Devonte’ Graham, a four-year player in the program who averaged over seven assists a game as a senior.

Michigan? Sophomore Zavier Simpson was the primary point in a three-guard rotation. Senior Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman saw plenty of action as a one guard as well, boasting the third-best assist-to-turnover ratio (4.33) in the country and No. 1 in the Big Ten.

Villanova, of course, had Jalen Brunson, who earned the starting point guard spot as a freshman to help the program to a national title in 2016. He did it again as a seasoned junior this year.

Loyola-Chicago’s top two assist guys were veterans junior Clayton Custer and senior Ben Richardson.

The point is, as exciting as landing one-and-done talent is, it is the multiple-year guys that truly make the longer-lasting difference on a program. No one outside of Duke and Kentucky can stay elite by continuing to land five-star talent that exits to the NBA after a year or two.

A Romeo Langford commitment to Indiana on April 30 will certainly feel like a state holiday for legions of Hoosiers fans. It will give the program what it needs in the short term, but will it make a difference three or four years from now?

With Phinisee, that is not even a question.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Justin Kenny at jkenny@news-sentinel.com.


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