The Basketball Whisperer
I'm a RECRUITING guy. You know this. I defended John Groce for five years because JUST WAIT UNTIL THE RECRUITING PAYS OFF. (The recruiting never paid off.) So now we turn the other way: we hired a Basketball Whisperer.
Let's be honest - I was so wrong about Groce it was embarrassing. I calculate basketball one way: land top-100 recruits, get them to their upperclassman years, profit. I think I've even written articles titled "Roll The Ball Out". Just get me a starting five of ranked players, a bench with some talent, and Roll The Ball Out.
Tracy Abrams #65 (using 247 Composite rankings)
Jalen Coleman-Lands #37
Malcolm Hill #70
Leron Black #41
Maverick Morgan #158
DJ Williams #78
Aaron Jordan #117
Te'Jon Lucas #142
So you'd think I'd toss the whole "college basketball is about recruiting recruiting recruiting" out the window, right? Like, during this coaching search I'd dust off some NERDstats and look for one of those offensive rebounding efficiency guys, right?
Of course not. There I was, any time someone would text me, begging for a recruiter. I wanted Archie because I thought he'd recruit like his brother. I questioned why people questioned Cuonzo because Counzo can recruit. I stuck to the guns that had failed me for five years. It's all I know, really.
So what do we do? We go in the exact opposite direction. And this is probably a very, very good thing.
Since he became a head coach, here are the results for Brad Underwood's teams:
Stephen F Austin
When you consider that Oklahoma State was 12-20 (3-15) the year before, that's a mighty big improvement. Oklahoma State wasn't expected to do anything this season and started the Big 12 schedule 0-6. But as everything clicked, they finished their conference schedule 9-3 (and very nearly beat red-hot Michigan in the first round yesterday).
So... maybe I need to drop my whole "recruiting recruiting recruiting" thing? Maybe I should realize that the reason I love Illini basketball so much is because Lou Henson was a pretty good Basketball Whisperer (while Jimmy Collins handled the recruiting)? Maybe I need to get rid of my football-centric "it's all about bigger/stronger/faster athletes" mantra and start to realize that scheming a basketball game is wildly important?
I mean, I laughed at Wisconsin for years and predicted Bo's demise. No, seriously, look back to my early posts in 2009 and 2010 where I said "without big-time recruiting he cannot sustain this". (He sustained it.) I laughed at Michigan hiring John Beilein, saying that he'd never recruit at a level to get Michigan back to late-80's Michigan. Like, as I'm typing this out here, how dumb am I? I hold to this whole "unevaluateable' thing re: the early years of a basketball coach ("we need to wait for him to get the athletes in place"), but there's always been plenty to evaluate. Good Lord, the ways I've misled you over the past several years are astounding.
Look, I still believe in recruiting. Brad Underwood probably doesn't win 20 games if Travis Ford doesn't beat John Groce for Jawun Evans. Players matter. I'm not sitting here saying that the exact opposite is true - that Underwood could coach the 2008 Illini to 24 wins. You have to land talent or you're forever playing basketball uphill.
But throughout The John Groce Experiment, I've learned how much coaching really does matter. That just because you have experienced seniors, you still can't just roll the ball out. Experienced talent is a big part of it, and Bo Ryan can tell you that having years in his system means everything to their success (it seems like every Wisconsin team has three solid seniors, and how many Wisconsin players have we seen do nothing as a sophomore and then break out in a huge way as a junior?), so implementing the system over several years is key. The whole thing about recruiting to your system with a balanced roster still remains wildly important.
But you still have to have a Basketball Whisperer at the front. A Bo Ryan, a John Beilein, a guy who understands every mistake made in practice. Someone who can get the most out of his players.
And I think that's who we hired today. I think he's a Basketball Whisperer. I think he can max out every player. He was a Notre Dame tip-in at the buzzer from the Sweet 16 last year (at Stephen F. Austin) and nearly beat Michigan yesterday. And now he's coming to Illinois.
The best thing? This sets up really well for a Basketball Whisperer. There are no seniors on next year's team. He has two full seasons to work with the same roster. Two full years to take Te'Jon, JCL, Kipper, Black, Finke and the rest and mold them into a real team. Maybe even make the Tournament next year and then make a real push in 2018/19.
Oh, also - recruit.