Tate | Langford's pick of IU highlights sway of Adidas

Tate | Langford's pick of IU highlights sway of Adidas

Romeo is in love again ... 400-plus years later with college basketball and Indiana University.

And, who knows, the 19-year-old with the Shakespearean name, Romeo Langford, may ultimately extend this romantic attachment beyond a nine-month affair, which is so often not the case with the game's one-and-dones.

But, as we look toward Thursday's clash between Illinois and Indiana in Bloomington, Ind., we see a recruitment that's more complicated than the surface story of a New Albany super-prep landing at his state school via the salesmanship of new head coach Archie Miller. Nor was it Romeo's infatuation with the candy-striped uniforms.

You know already. When it boils down to an athlete with 3,000 points in high school, it becomes the business of the shoe companies and their piles of cash. Digging by The Washington Post and award-winning Indianapolis columnist Bob Kravitz combined to provide the real story.

Tug of war

The Langford recruitment process was a family decision that boiled down to a Nike school, Vanderbilt, and an Adidas school, IU. There was talk of Vandy shocking the basketball world, having already landed sure-fire lottery pick Darius Garland (now injured).

Kansas, also Adidas, was mentioned as part of a Romeo triangle but became an outsider due to serious and ongoing concerns with federal and NCAA investigators (Billy Preston, Silvio De Sousa). You'll recall that Duke's touted freshman, Zion Williamson, also shunned Kansas after his father allegedly sought money, housing and a job through Jayhawk assistant coach Kurtis Townsend and his Adidas connections.

Nutshelling, Adidas desperately wanted Langford at IU, and was determined to outbid Nike for him. This became obvious a few weeks after Langford's commitment when The Post reported that Adidas provided money to fund the father's AAU team, Twenty Two Vision.

Follow the money

Ousted Louisville coach Rick Pitino, a close observer of goings-on at nearby New Albany, put it in context for the Post: "Whichever shoe company was going to pay Tim Langford's AAU team the most money, gets it. Shoe company sponsorships can reach $100,000 to $150,000, and team directors who limit expenses can pay themselves salaries from those amounts."

Pitino added that "it's perfectly legal, by the way."

So, just as freshman Marvin Bagley III chose a Nike school, Duke, because Nike funded his father's AAU team, Romeo chose IU because Adidas outbid Nike for Tim Langford's AAU team.

And Indiana fans cheer the fact that Archie Miller is keeping the home fires burning while an unpopular Tom Crean is starting over in Georgia. Crean, you see, couldn't keep the state's elite players at home. Those folks east of Danville love their young stars, and Crean fell into disfavor despite winning Big Ten titles in 2013 and 2016. IU reached the Sweet 16 both years, even as all those prize preps kept escaping because, well ... some say Crean wouldn't play the game.

Going out of state

Looking back to IU's 2014 and 2015 recruiting classes, nine of 10 were out-of-staters. Arsenal Tech's Trey Lyles, the 2014 Indiana Player of the Year, committed to IU but switched to Kentucky, where he was one and done. And Park Tudor's Trevon Bluiett became a huge star at Xavier.

In 2015, Fort Wayne's Caleb Swanigan attended Purdue after a murky recruitment. Adopted by a former Purdue star (and AAU coach) Roosevelt Barnes, Swanigan committed to Michigan State but changed his mind in favor of a two-year stay with the Boilermakers. Make your own conclusions about Barnes' involvement.

Again in 2016 and 2017, eight of nine Hoosier recruits were out-of-staters. The state's two best of 2016, Kyle Guy and James Banks, chose Virginia and Texas, respectively. And in 2017, North Central's Kris Wilkes picked UCLA (he drew a big crowd when he worked out at Illinois).

All is well

So Crean got the boot and Miller, enjoying a happy relationship with Adidas, not only kept Langford and Robert Phinisee in the home state, but has 2019 five-star Trayce Jackson-Davis (6-9) of Greenwood Center Grove poised to replace senior Juwan Morgan next season.

All is well with the Hoosiers again. Thanks to a early-December streak of four wins by a basket or less vs. Northwestern, Penn State, Louisville and Butler, they're 11-2 and ranked.

They have a bright new coach, an energized fan base and their top recruiter, Adidas, has put them in a great place moving forward.

Calling these "murky waters," Kravitz wrote: "This is the way recruitment works. The shoe company pays off the recruits' families, and then the recruit gets steered to the shoe company's member schools. Quid pro quo."

Schools that don't have this working for them aren't likely to be prominent when March rolls around. Meanwhile, stay tuned for February and April play-for-pay federal trials to produce more revelations ... after which the NCAA will be free to use the information on display.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com

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