First impressions are everything.
In college basketball, however, second, third and fourth impressions mean even more.
Michigan coach John Beilein understood that in recruiting Lake Central junior Glenn Robinson III. Beilein -- or one of his assistants -- saw Robinson play as often as they could, Indians coach Dave Milausnic said, traveling from St. John to Florida to show Robinson how interested the Wolverines were.
Even though he was also recruited hard by Purdue, which didn't have any scholarships left in Robinson's class, Milausnic said, Robinson is the second recruit Beilein lured away from the grasps of Indiana University and Purdue University, signing Chesterton's Zack Novak in 2008.
"When you have some success in some certain areas, you like going back there," Beilein said. "I don't know if we have a stronghold in there, just overall now that we have on our staff (LaVall) Jordan who played at Butler and Jeff (Meyer) who is from Indiana, I'm sure we'll be in there more. It's a very good state and it's been a very good state for a very long time."
Northwest Indiana has long been a necessary stop on the recruiting trail for college coaches. While the region has sent a fair share of basketball players to schools around the country, some of its premier talent has remained in state.
This year, however, two of the top prep basketball players in the region, Robinson and Lew Wallace's Branden Dawson, are taking their talents elsewhere. Indiana and Purdue both lost out on Dawson to Michigan State.
Fenced in backyard
Ask Milausnic who the most visible in-state coach is around the region and the answer almost comes out before the question is finished.
With Purdue's campus just more than an hour drive away, it should come as no surprise that he's established a reputation and developed a rapport with most of the high school coaches in the area. Painter has been a staple at Bishop Noll, where the Warriors have three Division I prospects.
At Big Ten Media Day in Chicago on Oct. 28, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo talked about how former Indiana coach Bob Knight used to have a fence around Indiana, meaning he would sign all the good in-state recruits.
"There's been a lot of good players out of Northwest Indiana and I think for so long, every state kinda keeps its players," Izzo said. "That has changed in the last 10 years."
Painter has become the heir to that throne locally. Even though he lost out on Dawson and Robinson, Painter has kept some of the better area prospects inside state lines and away from Bloomington. In 2006, he signed area trio Robbie Hummel and Scott Martin from Valparaiso, and E'Twaun Moore from E.C. Central. To Painter, the type of players he wants in West Lafayette hail from the region.
"It's more of the culture," Painter said. "It's a blue-collar area, and Purdue is a blue-collar choice. In recruiting, if you're pretty and you need all the bells and whistles, we're not your spot and nor do we want you.
"That's not appealing to everybody but that's appealing to a lot of people in the region because they grew up that way. Their parents were that way, their aunt and uncle were that way, their cousins were that way. You wake up and go to work, and you outwork the next man. And I think that's why we have a connection to that area."
Just another battle
During the last decade, IU strayed from what helped it become one of the elite programs in the country: Recruiting Indiana.
Among his many other tasks of resurrecting the Hoosiers, coach Tom Crean is making it a priority to close the exits leading out of Indiana.
"Its a great program that for so long spoke for itself, but you got to remind people why that was," Crean said. "We lost a generation of recruits, I don't think there's any question about that.
"A lot of programs came in and did a great job. Purdue is a very good beneficiary of continuing to recruit the state better especially after Matt got there and made it such a priority."
The last IU recruit from Northwest Indiana was Chesterton's Matt Nover in 1990 and before him was Dan Dakich out of Andrean in 1982.
The process will be a slow and steady one for Crean.
He missed out on Robinson and Dawson, but landed a verbal commitment from LaPorte La Lumiere's Hanner Perea.
"We're working to recruit the state of Indiana," Crean said. "It's Indiana University so we want to recruit the entire state. It doesn't matter what part of the state it is.
"Now it's a matter of building relationships. Getting people on campus is crucial. The more that they get there and they get a feel for it, the better we are. So that's what we want to do in the state. We're not limiting ourself to any area of the state, we're not limiting ourselves to any class, as far as age. We want to recruit Indiana."