CARTERSVILLE, Ga. -- Life is relatively good in Bloomington, Indiana these days.
Indiana is coming off a Sweet 16 run in which it knocked off Kentucky in the second round; Thomas Bryant, OG Anunoby and James Blackmon all returned to school, putting the Hoosiers in the top 15 of most early preseason rankings; and head coach Tom Crean has a little more job security than he did at this time a year ago.
But the month of July is about the future, with every college coach in the country on the road recruiting and building up their program.
And as a result, Indiana is under some pressure.
The state of Indiana has four top-50 prospects in the 2017 class: Kris Wilkes (No. 11), Jaren Jackson (No. 25), Paul Scruggs (No. 33) and Malik Williams (No. 42). Three of them -- Wilkes, Scruggs and Williams -- participated in the Under Armour Association Finals in the Atlanta suburbs this weekend.
IU assistants Rob Judson and Tim Buckley were present at the event, but Indiana has plenty of competition for these in-state prospects.
Wilkes is still a long way from committing, but he’s become a priority for several programs. Washington’s Lorenzo Romar, Xavier’s Chris Mack, Illinois’ John Groce and Butler’s Chris Holtmann watched him on Thursday, as did assistants from Maryland, Texas, Notre Dame, Michigan, Purdue -- in addition to Indiana. UCLA and Ohio State are also heavily involved.
Indiana was the first school to offer Wilkes, but other schools have made up plenty of ground over the past couple of years and the Hoosiers are just one of many in the mix right now.
“[The Hoosiers] tell me I could be one of those great players if I went there,” Wilkes said. “I hear it all the time, at school, of course I live in Indiana, all the people in my school, ‘Oh go here.’ It’s not really pressure, I just let it blow off. Ultimately it’s my decision at the end.”
Scruggs recently trimmed his list down to Indiana, Xavier, Louisville, Washington, Michigan State, Ohio State and Kansas -- but he’s still open to other schools entering the mix. Connecticut recently began contacting him.
While Scruggs won’t publicly admit it and still plans to take official visits in August, it seems Xavier has emerged as the favorite to land the strong combo guard.
Then there’s Williams, one of the more unique prospects on the AAU circuit this spring and summer. He doesn’t play for a sneaker-sponsored team, instead preferring to stay loyal to Legit Basketball, a team he’s played on for years. That hasn’t slowed down his recruitment, with Tom Izzo, Rick Pitino, Matt Painter and Fran McCaffery all at his Wednesday night game. Georgetown, UCLA, Xavier and others are also in the mix.
Indiana remains in pursuit.
“They were my first offer and they’ve been there the longest,” Williams said. “It’s just a nice relationship down there, and it’s a nice time every time I go down to visit. I can come in and impact the team and be a nice player.”
While several Big Ten schools were in early on Williams and remain heavily involved, it’s an ACC school that has received the most buzz around his recruitment lately: Louisville. The Cardinals are not expecting a commitment anytime soon, but they’ve emerged as a major player.
Jaren Jackson was one of the biggest risers in the spring, going from unranked to five-star status. As a result, his school list has expanded tremendously. Texas, Michigan State, Michigan, Maryland, Georgetown and others have all seemed to make him a priority.
Jackson is not anywhere close to cutting his list or making a decision, so it's tough to gauge who is leading for his commitment.
This is not to say that Indiana is absolutely going to strike out on the four top-50 Indiana natives. However, the Hoosiers do have plenty of work to do to land at least one of them -- and might be playing catch-up for the three priorities: Wilkes, Williams and Scruggs.
Unfortunately, it brings back to the surface one of the more eye-opening stats in recruiting. Since Crean’s first full recruiting class in 2009, the state of Indiana has produced 31 players ranked in the ESPN 100. The Hoosiers have landed just five of them -- with three of them coming in the class of 2012. Of course, Crean and his staff have gone east to land the likes of Noah Vonleh and Troy Williams and Thomas Bryant and Victor Oladipo, so Indiana hasn’t been lacking for high-level prospects by any stretch. And the Hoosiers are coming off a Big Ten title, so clearly they’re doing something right in acquiring talent.
For a program with the history and allure of the Hoosiers, though, especially in a basketball-crazed place like Indiana, to not lock down the top talent in state is still a difficult pill to swallow. The 2017 class would highlight that fact, given that Wilkes and Scruggs have been big names in Indiana for years and both received offers from the Hoosiers before their first high school games. Furthermore, this needs to be an important recruiting class for Crean, given the likely departures of Bryant, Blackmon and Anunoby.
Would it be the end of the world if Indiana went 0-for-4 with the aforementioned players? No, the Hoosiers are still going after Brandon Randolph (No. 43), Nick Richards (No. 8), Tremont Waters (No. 31), Jordan Tucker (No. 35), Mohamed Bamba (No. 3), David Beatty (No. 96) and others. They also already have a commitment from Al Durham. They'll fill out their class with good players.
But having four in-state prospects ranked in the top 50 nationally -- the most from Indiana since 2014 -- and missing on all four? That would certainly put a damper on the good vibes in Bloomington.