Indiana looks to the past with Cheaney

Are Indiana fans cautiously optimistic? Or just downright giddy? Whatever the exact classification, Indiana coach Tom Crean's impressive recruiting progress -- he'll bring his first legitimate IU big man in Cody Zeller onto campus this fall, and his 2012 class is currently ranked No. 1 in the country -- means the Hoosiers are almost certain to improve over the next three seasons.

IU fans have sat through a combined 28 wins in the last three seasons, so you can forgive them if they're tempering their hopes until the youngsters produce on the court. Or, if unbridled hope is the most common emotion, well, you can forgive that, too.

Cautious or not, the optimism around this once-storied program's future is palpable. But Indiana fans have a special, tortured relationship with their program's history. In many ways, for both better and worse, the spectre of legendary coach Bob Knight still looms over Indiana basketball and its fans. Those fans want to honor their past, to reunite the Indiana "family," even as Knight ignores the school's repeated peace proposals and spends his time mentoring a Big Ten rival instead.

All of which is why the name "Calbert Cheaney" matters, and why Indiana fans were no doubt thrilled when they heard the following news this weekend. From the AP:

The Big Ten's career scoring leader was hired Saturday by coach Tom Crean as the Hoosiers' new director of basketball operations. Crean made the announcement during his father/son basketball camp, ending several days of speculation that one of the best players in school history would be back on campus.

"Calbert knows the standard that it takes to be successful academically as a high-level student athlete, and he knows what is expected to play at the NBA level," Crean said in a statement. "He is excited to learn the business of college basketball."

Crean inherited an unenviable job for more than one reason. Sure, rebuilding the talent crater left in the wake of Kelvin Sampson's sanctions was bad enough. But Indiana fans also want a program that does things the "right way," which means any or all of the following:

  1. Running a clean recruiting operation.

  2. Landing lots of Indiana players.

  3. Paying tribute to the past at every turn.

Crean has spent as much of his first three seasons trying to balance those concerns as he has juggling his undersized lineup. He's had to earn positive press from former Indiana greats, the kind that come out of the woodwork to give their all-important endorsements to local media outlets any time the program feels in flux. Crean has had to win those converts. He's had to establish the program's reputation in the state. (He's also had to deal with the questions asked about ties with A-HOPE and Indiana Elite, which he did quite well last month.) And on top of it all, he's had to give fans a sense of the overarching goal: a united program reverent of its past and excited about its future.

Indiana may not be able to get Knight back on campus. But step by step -- and hiring Cheaney, one of the true modern Indiana greats, is a big step -- Crean continues to heal the wounds opened in 2000 and 2008.

Now, the Hoosiers just have to win. But hey, that's the easy part, right?