BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - Tom Crean knows how far the Indiana
program has already come.
He sees it every day at practice with the increased competition
for playing time and now fans are starting to see the fruits, too.
Three years after inheriting a train wreck of a program, Crean
finally has the Hoosiers playing more like, well, the Hoosiers
"They had a mess there," recruit Cody Zeller said Wednesday
night. "But, you know, it's always been a great program."
Few schools can match Indiana's tradition, which includes five
national titles, the last undefeated season in Division I men's
basketball, the winningest coach in men's history and a parade of
first-round draft picks.
But when he came to Bloomington, Crean inherited a team that had
only two returning players, both walk-ons, and a school that saw
it's squeaky-clean image suddenly tarnished by the first major NCAA
infractions case against it in nearly half a century. There were
allegations of players using drugs and documented cases of players
regularly skipping classes.
Indiana has not recovered completely, but Crean is clearly
For the first time since 2002, Indiana started 6-0 - the longest
winning streak of the Crean era. The Hoosiers have now won eight
straight home games, another best under Crean, and take a 7-1
record into Saturday's game at No. 17 Kentucky.
What really excites Indiana fans is Crean's ability to win over
"I just know what Indiana is all about," talented shooting
guard Maurice Creek said, explaining his decision to leave the East
Coast for the Midwest. "I think to come in and help rebuild this
thing, that's what it's all about."
Until last month, Crean's biggest wins had come with
out-of-state players like Creek, from Maryland; guard Verdell
Jones, from Illinois; and small forward Christian Watford, from
The exceptions were Jordan Hulls, an overlooked Bloomington
native who won the state's Mr. Basketball Award in 2009, and Derek
Elston. Both have played key roles in the resurgence, and that has
helped Crean rebuild Indiana's recruiting presence in the
Last month, Indiana won the year's biggest in-state prize in
getting Zeller. And once Indiana emerged as the favorite for
Zeller, well, the parade to Bloomington started in earnest.
Highly touted forward Hanner Perea, who plays at a prep school
in LaPorte, Ind., verbally committed to the Hoosiers in late
October. Two weeks after Zeller's announcement, highly rated
Indianapolis Park Tudor point guard Kevin Ferrell said he would
play at Indiana. They'll form the nucleus of Crean's 2012
Indianapolis Cathedral forward Collin Hartman and Warren Central
forward Devin Davis Jr. are already locked up for 2013, and,
Indianapolis Tech forward Trey Lyles and Fort Wayne Luers shooting
guard James Blackmon Jr., have already committed for 2014.
All of this for a school that hasn't been to a postseason
tournament since 2008 and has two other in-state programs getting
more attention - No. 19 Purdue and defending national runner-up
Part of Crean's struggle was reminding players of exactly what
the Indiana tradition is. Despite having the third-most national
titles and the second most Big Ten crowns (20), the Hoosiers have
reached only two Final Fours since 1992 and haven't won an outright
league title since 1993.
Zeller said that has affected how recruits view Indiana.
"They remember 2002," Zeller said, referring to the Hoosiers'
last appearance in the NCAA title game. "But I think they remember
more about the current stuff because it's fresh in their mind and
when they think of Indiana over the last few years, they think of
it as a mess."
So what has changed at Indiana?
"Certainly Cook Hall is a big deal," Crean said, referring to
the school's new state-of-the-art practice facility. "But there
are so many things you can sell at the university. The bottom line
is that people are seeing the proof and believe that the program is
going to get back to where we want to see it."
Put Zeller in that camp.
This year's Mr. Basketball favorite said that while he's
impressed with Crean and the facilities in Bloomington, he made his
choice based on the progression he's seen on and off the court.
"There were coaches and players and they had a lot of things
going on behind the scenes, it was just a mess," Zeller said.
"Now they've got it going in the right direction."
Crean won just six games in his first season, 2008-09. Last
year, he won 10 - half of what Hoosiers fans expect in a mediocre
season. Even as attendance figures continued to put Indiana among
the national leaders, some season-ticket holders began questioning
publicly whether Crean was the right man for the job.
Those critics have now vanished.
Just one month into the season, the Hoosiers have won nearly
half as many games as they did in Crean's first two seasons
combined. Yes, they are piling up victories against a soft
schedule, and that's by design because Crean understands that his
job is nowhere close to finished.
"I think they're gaining confidence," he said. "There's more
competition now, and there's a real like for one another, which I
think came out in our recruiting. And they are getting better, but
it's a long, long season."
And a long, long rebuilding project for everyone involved.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)