Vonleh an important get for Indiana

The Indiana Hoosiers had eliminated all their recruiting targets except one: power forward Noah Vonleh (Haverhill, Mass./New Hampton School). On Saturday night -- during his official visit to Bloomington, Ind. -- Vonleh, the No. 8 prospect in the ESPN 100, committed to the Hoosiers.

Here’s the deal. Indiana had a stellar recruiting class even before it landed Vonleh. Guys such as Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson can hoop. Tom Crean continues to move the needle in Bloomington, and Indiana is back to being a national recruiting threat. With all that said, Vonleh is important for one huge reason: The Hoosiers are likely to lose Cody Zeller at the end of the year.

Zeller is a big boy, potentially the national player of the year. One can take the “Moneyball” approach and try to replicate his numbers with a series of contributions from good players, but this isn’t baseball. In hoops, the biggest programs rely on pros, guys who can be stars. Vonleh certainly has that capability. He might need more than the season Zeller did to establish his dominance, but there’s a superior talent coming to Bloomington next year. More importantly, Vonleh seems like a guy who can carry a heavy load.

One of the big reasons Vonleh should be a player as a freshman is that he’s an outstanding rebounder, especially on the offensive glass. We know rebounding translates. Mix in the undeniable fact that Vonleh’s ball skills are way above the national average, the fact that he has a fine shooting stroke and the fact that his body is heading in the right direction. All signs point to his being an elite player in college early on, which brings us back to his importance.

Indiana pushed all-in on Vonleh. Crean recruited him hard. How hard? Ask Vonleh’s high school coach, Pete Hutchins.

“I would say that, throughout the process, they did the best job recruiting Noah and his mom,” Hutchins said. “Obviously they did an unbelievable job.”

Vonleh reclassified this fall into the Class of 2013 and immediately trimmed his college list to Syracuse, Indiana, Georgetown, Ohio State, Connecticut and North Carolina. Planned visits to Syracuse and Georgetown were scheduled for coming weeks. One year ago to the week, Vonleh told me Syracuse and North Carolina were his favorite schools.

Typically when those heavy hitters get mentioned, it’s curtains for the other competitors. Indiana would have none of it. The Hoosiers hammered this kid to the point that it seemed as if taking "no" for an answer wasn’t going to do.

“They really pushed their player development strategy,” Hutchins said. “They pushed the way Cody Zeller’s improved and how Will Sheehey and Victor [Oladipo] have come along. They weren’t really highly rated [except for Zeller], and they’ve improved, and that stuff really stood out to him.”

Indiana’s recruiting class now contains three ESPN 100 players. In addition to Vonleh, also headed to Bloomington are Williams (No. 33), Robinson (58), center Luke Fischer, wing Devin Davis and forward Collin Hartman. With Vonleh, the Hoosiers move to the No. 4 spot in the class rankings.

But forget the rankings. In this specific instance, there’s not a number you can tag on Vonleh to demonstrate his significance. When Zeller leaves, there will be a void. That void was going to remain unless a potential star was signed. On Saturday, I can’t say Indiana replaced Zeller. But, in adding the No. 8 player in the senior class, the Hoosiers did give themselves a chance, and that is mission accomplished in my book.