Recently, Jeremy Hollowell from Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis (or Lawrence—unigov complicates things) made a verbal commitment to Indiana. He’s the fifth high-profile recruit from the class of 2012 (and the third from the ESPNU Super 60) to commit to Indiana.
The Hoosiers’ 2012 class is shaping up to be one of the best in the nation and may end up being IU’s best crop of incoming freshman since the celebrated 1989 class. If Tom Crean can add Gary Harris, the Hoosier faithful will really have something to get excited about.
Like the 1989 group, the 2012 class includes several top players from the Hoosier State, headlined by top-30 recruits Yogi Ferrell (who just led Park Tudor to a 2A state title) and Hanner Perea.
Hoosier fans—who have spent the last couple years watching Butler cut down nets, Purdue contend for Big 10 titles, and Kentucky reclaim its spot among the nation’s elite—have high hopes for these 2012 recruits. Indeed, the last class to arrive in Bloomington with such high expectations was the 1989 class. The Chicago Tribune’s Barry Temkin asked whether the seven freshman IU recruited in 1989 comprised the “greatest recruiting class ever”—not just at Indiana, but anywhere.
I remember that group well, having watched several of the “Stupendous Seven” (as Dick Vitale once called them) play in high school and having attended my share of Indiana games in the late 80s and early 90s. So I decided to take a closer look at the seven players from that 1989 class, the expectations they brought with them, and the results.
In the pre-Internet age, Cheaney, who broke a foot and missed much of his senior year at Evansville Harrison, was a bit of an unknown commodity. (The fact that Cheaney sat out the 1989 ISHAA State Tournament didn’t keep one of my college friends from boasting about Evansville Memorial’s 1989 sectional upset of “an Evansville Harrison team with Walter McCarty and Calbert Cheaney.”)
During his junior year, Bob Knight was reluctant to recruit him. When a healthy Calbert Cheaney took the floor at Assembly Hall, he set himself apart early on. But going into his freshman year, no one imagined that he would end up a Naismith award winner.
Well, he won the Naismith College Player of the Year award as a senior, and he remains the Big Ten’s all-time leading scorer. Cheaney made the AP All America 3rd Team in 1991 and 1992 and the 1st Team in 1993. He led Indiana in scoring all four years and was arguably the best player on all four of those teams. (You could have made a case for Eric Anderson during the 1989-90 season.)
Funderburke, from Columbus, Ohio, was the most celebrated member of the 1989 class, but he brought baggage to Bloomington that couldn’t be unpacked in a dorm-room wardrobe. Sir Lawrence clashed with his high school coach and sat out much of his senior season. Any questions about his talent or athleticism, however, were quickly put to rest.
I went to the two pre-season exhibition games in 1989 (one against Athletes in Action and one against a foreign national team of some sort), and Funderburke was impressive. He was easily the most exciting player on the floor, and he had the potential to be the best.
Funderburke went on to have a solid basketball, and academic, career—at Ohio State. I’m not sure he ever lived up to his full potential on the court, but he was a key player on some very good Buckeyes teams. As I recall, some of his best college performances were against Indiana. Funderburke had a nice career as a roleplayer in the NBA after a stint in Europe.
I saw Greg Graham play several times in high school. In high school he had the size, speed, and athleticism of a great college player, but—to my 12-year-old eyes—his performance on the floor was underwhelming. Graham’s Warren Central team had two other Division I players, including Iowa State standout Ron Bayless. I always thought that team should have performed better in the state tournament and the Marion County Tournament. Granted, there was a lot of high school basketball talent in the Indianapolis area at the time.
The professionals who evaluate high school basketball players disagreed with me. Graham was one of two McDonald’s All Americans from that 1989 class. Bob Knight described Graham as a “good scorer but a mediocre shooter when he came to Indiana.”
Greg Graham made significant contributions as a freshman and got better each season he spent in Bloomington. His senior year he led the Big Ten in field-goal and three-point percentage and was arguably the league’s best defender. Along the way, he treated Hoosier fans to dozens of face-melting dunks.
The Hornets picked Graham with the 17th pick in the 1993 NBA Draft. (The Pacers passed on him and instead drafted Oregon State’s Scott Haskin with the 14th pick. Haskin played a total of 27 games in his NBA career.) Graham played five seasons in the NBA. He’s currently the head basketball coach at his alma mater, Warren Central High School.
Pat Graham was Indiana’s Mr. Basketball in 1989 and, like Greg (no relation), a McDonald’s All American. He led Floyd Central to the ISHAA’s final four. Knight described Pat Graham as “one of the best shooters the state has turned out for a long while.” 12-year-old me thought he was the second coming of Steve Alford.
Pat Graham was a nice player, but injuries kept him from reaching his full potential. He redshirted one season because of injuries and missed another season’s worth of games over the course of his career at Indiana.
Lawson was a Bloomington native, but I never got to see him play in high school. He was 6-10 and, according to this Chicago Tribune article from the era, reminded “some of former Hoosier pivot Kent Benson.”
Lawson wasn’t Kent Benson, but he had a nice college career . . . at Vanderbilt. Lawson and Billy McCaffrey (another transfer) took Vandy to the Sweet Sixteen in 1993.
When Jay Edwards made his ill-advised decision to bolt for the NBA, Knight had one more scholarship to play with. He offered it to Todd Leary. Though Leary led Lawrence North to the 1989 state championship and was selected to the Indiana All-Star Team, he was the least heralded of Indiana’s seven recruits that year.
I suspect that Knight had hopes (however slim) that Leary would lure high school teammate Eric Montross to Bloomington. Montross (a junior) had not yet committed to North Carolina and was still considering other schools, including Indiana.
Leary was a bit player early on and redshirted the 1990-91 season. Leary had a coming-out party of sorts in the 1992 Final Four against Duke when, after Indiana had more or less conceded the game, he hit three three-pointers in the final minute. Thanks to Todd Leary, Indiana only lost that game by three points.
During his senior year (one year after many of his classmates had graduated), Leary played significant minutes. Still, when news stories about Leary’s recent arrests for a mortgage scam and burglary referred to him as a “former IU standout,” my first response was, “Standout? Really? That’s a stretch.”
Reynolds came from Peoria, Illinois, so I never saw him play in high school and didn’t know much about him. (An aside: Indiana great A.J. Guyton also came from Peoria. First order of business for new Bradley coach Geno Ford? Petition the State of Illinois to shut down I-74 so that no more great guards can leave the city.) It became apparent immediately that Reynolds was a character guy and a natural leader.
I remember Reynolds being a nice complement to Jamal Meeks, another point guard from Illinois. Reynolds was a better athlete and defender, Meeks a better shooter. Both were scrappy and both were capable floor generals. Reynolds set himself apart as a senior, running the show for the best Indiana team of the last two decades.
The Entire Class
This group was supposed to hang a banner in Assembly Hall, maybe two. To quote the Indiana University Basketball Encyclopedia:
Indiana’s 1989 recruiting class arrived in Bloomington amid a clamor of hype and fanfare. College basketball analysts and recruiting specialists were spouting hyperbole such as calling IU’s group of seven high school standouts the greatest recruiting class ever assembled in college basketball, while Hoosier fans across the state of Indiana were blustering that this group would lead IU to multiple national championships and would rival the legendary accomplishments of Hoosier teams in the mid-1970s.
Temkin in the Chicago Tribune was more cautious. He suspected that Funderburke might be a problem and wrote, prophetically, “Knight signed seven players, and junior phenom Damon Bailey of Bedford, Ind., already has said he will add to the logjam in 1990. This means a lack of playing time for one or two recruits, and that spells t-r-a-n-s-f-e-r.”
None of the members of the 1989 recruiting class won a national championship (either at IU or elsewhere). Two of them transferred early in their Indiana careers.
The 1989-90 team got off to a hot start against a weak non-conference schedule but struggled in the Big Ten and lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
In 1990-91 Indiana tied Ohio State for first in the Big Ten and earned a 2 seed in the tournament but lost to Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen.
The following year IU again entered the tournament as a 2 seed, having finished second to Ohio State in the Big Ten. That team advanced to the Final Four, after punishing top-seeded UCLA (and avenging an early season loss) in the Elite Eight. There Indiana lost to Duke the eventual champion.
The 1993 squad, led by seniors Cheaney, Graham, and Reynolds and fifth-year senior (and star of Blue Chips Matt Nover) ended the regular season 28-3 overall, 17-1 in the Big Ten, and ranked #1 in both polls. But starting forward Alan Henderson (in my opinion the best IU player from that era) injured his knee late in the season and was far from 100 percent in the NCAA Tournament. Indiana lost to Kansas in the Elite Eight.
Leary and Pat Graham were still around in 1994 when the fifth-seeded Hoosiers, led by Damon Bailey and Henderson, went to the Sweet Sixteen and were upset by Boston College.
All-in-all that 1989 class gave Indiana fans two really good teams and one great team, several memorable games against some fantastic Ohio State and Michigan teams, two Big Ten titles, four Sweet Sixteens, two Elite Eights, one Final Four, and zero NCAA titles.
When Calbert, the two Grahams, Reynolds, Lawson, Leary, and Funderburke enrolled in the fall of 1989, Indiana was the reigning Big Ten champion. The Hoosiers were little more than two years removed from a national championship and had won three national championships in the previous fourteen seasons. If that class fell short of expectations, it was mostly because Indiana fans had gotten used to hanging a banner once every five or six years. (I remember thinking that Indiana was due for—or even entitled to—an NCAA title in 1993.)
Circumstances are obviously different for the 2012 bunch. Yogi, Hanner, Jeremy Hollowell, and company have the burden of returning Indiana basketball to its former glory and keeping their coach off the hot seat along the way. In that regard this class is similar to North Carolina’s celebrated 2002 class, headlined by Sean May, Raymond Felton, and Rashad McCants. That group came to Chapel Hill one year after the Tar Heels had gone 8–20 and missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1974. As freshmen, they led UNC to the NIT, and their coach lost his job. The following year, with Roy Williams at the helm, they were back in the NCAA Tournament, though they got bounced in the second round. As juniors, that class led the Tar Heels to a national championship.
So what should Indiana fans expect from the 2012 class? It would be unfair to expect too much from teenagers, but one would hope that this group—along with Cody Zeller, who arrives one year ahead of them—will re-create a culture of winning in Bloomington, compete for Big Ten titles, and be relevant in March. A lot can happen when recruits become student-athletes. You never know who will develop, who will regress, who will become a superstar, and who will leave early. But if this group accomplishes half as much as their 1989 forebears, the Hoosier faithful should be delighted.
Josh Tinley is the author of Kneeling in the End Zone: Spiritual Lessons From the World of Sports. Follow him at twitter.com/joshtinley.