Tom Crean knew he'd have to build at Indiana. He just didn't expect there to be so little lumber. After taking over, he dismissed forward Brandon McGee for academic negligence, Jordan Crawford defected to Xavier and he booted DeAndre Thomas, Jamarcus Ellis and Armon Bassett (the latter two had already been kicked off the team by interim coach Dan Dakich, but were appealing).
It got worse.
A day before he had dismissed the others, he was in his office talking to center Eli Holman about possibly returning to the squad. It didn't go well. Holman threw a potted plant on his way out and the police were called. Holman transferred. After the dust settled, one scholarship player remained. One. At that time, the "team" was former walk-on Kyle Taber, a guy who averaged 1.3 points a game last season. Along with Taber, this year's squad was pieced together with some of Kelvin Sampson's leftover recruits, junior college players, some of Crean's own recruits and a bevy of walk-ons. It's as close to a college mash unit as you can find, and unheard of in Bloomington.
Still, if there's anyone that's up to a rebuild, it might be Crean. While at Marquette, attendance increased 70 percent at the Bradley Center from 1999-2006. Before that, he helped re-energize East Lansing with close friend Tom Izzo. We spoke to Crean, and took his words and got a feel for his game plan.
Prepare for this, Indiana.
"I think people that have lived the Indiana tradition for so long, I think they do get it. Certainly, we want them to feel like they're totally connected to what's going on in the sense of how we rebuild the program. And the energy that we want to provide on the floor has got to match the energy that we get from the fans. That will give us every opportunity to try to steal some wins and compete in games. When you're starting from scratch it's going to be tough anywhere. But I'm really glad we've got the Indiana tradition and the Indiana fans behind us."
What's Done is Done. Who is Gone is Gone.
"Every decision that was made and everything that we have gone through was merited, it was warranted and that's the way that it is. We have not looked back on anything with any regrets, or looked back on anything with any sense of wishing we could do it over. Now there's some remorse, because you don't want to see people leave a program, you don't want to see people not take advantage of an incredible opportunity that they had here, but that's the way it is. We haven't looked back at all."
Keep The Next Greg Oden Home.
"We (need) to get in on those players at an early age. And there's no question that with everything that we've gone through, we're behind in certain areas. We're behind in probably the junior class for sure, but we had to be so focused on getting players when we got here--we had to be so focused on getting players for this '09 class. So the kids in the '10 class, we're probably a little bit behind in and we're trying to catch up. But with the '11 and '12 classes, we spend a lot of quality time making sure they know we're very interested."
Be a Football Recruiter.
"It's important that we can tell them about their game. (Recruiting) is where I steal from my football coaching brothers-in-law here (John and Jim Harbaugh, the Baltimore Ravens and Stanford Cardinal head football coaches, respectively) in how much film that we watch of recruits. It's big to me to get as much film as you can so you can really tell them and show them where they can be better, how they can improve, and how they're going to improve for us. And then it's important to get them on campus to see them working with your players."
Izzo = Friend. Izzo = Rival.
"I'm in (Tom Izzo's) backyard if I'm at Indiana, but when he's at Indiana, he's in our backyard. It's just one of those types of situations. Nothing will ever change or affect our friendship. That's one that always has, and always will, stand the test of time. I'm sure it will be different when we compete against each other, but we go to Big Ten meetings and it's not like we're on the other side of the room, it's not like we don't talk; we're together like we've always been. He's been remarkable for me in the short period of time I've been here in just trying to get acclimated."
Practice (Facility) Makes Perfect.
"I think the new facilities will help a great deal, I don't think there's any question. What I'm most looking forward to is the Hall of Fame that will be there for Indiana basketball. If you've got a tradition like this, you've got to have a situation where people can really look at some of the great memories of the program. But to have a facility that is accessible to the players 24 hours a day, along with having Assembly Hall, we've got a chance to have the best of both worlds."
Sell Keith Smart. Sell Isiah Thomas. Sell Calbert Cheaney. Sell…
"The tradition at Indiana could be stacked up against the tradition of any other college sports team anywhere because of everything that has gone on here, in the sense of how many players have played here, how many championships have been won here. The players were household names to me, so it's very, very easy for me to promote that and to want to be a part of that and to welcome that. That's our lifeline … The tradition is what Indiana stands for and what I want it to stand for, and so we want to reward that and embrace that at every possible turn."