Indiana Basketball – Tom Crean Continues to Build IU Basketball the Right Way

by Kent Sterling

Weird on a day that saw the Indiana Hoosiers lose to Butler to write about what a great job Tom Crean is doing in Bloomington as the architect of a reclamation project that the programmers of HGTV wouldn’t touch with a ten foot support beam.

The truth is that kids are developing as basketball players in Bloomington faster than anywhere else in the country.  The work being done in Cook Hall is taking the ordinary, and preparing them for a chance to earn huge dollars in the NBA.

Players like Victor Oladipo, Will Sheehey, Christian Watford, and Jordan Hulls were not considered pro prospects coming out of high school.  But they are now, and that is a testimony to the work Crean and his staff do every day to help these kids reach their dreams.

When I interviewed Jordan Hulls as a sophomore, I asked what his plans were after college.  He said that he was interested in becoming an athletic trainer.  Those plans are likely on hold.  Scouts talk about Hulls being a Travis Diener type NBA guard.  Diener made $5.9 million in a five-year NBA career.  Sure, I thought he was a new intern at 1070 The Fan when he was in-studio, but he banked a lot of cash for a baby-faced assassin.

Victor Oladipo is an interesting kid.  There is a fine line between confidence and hubris where greatness can emerge, and Oladipo nests very nicely in that sweet spot.  He wants to be the best he can be, and knows that requires an honest assessment of his weaknesses, and a dogged pursuit of addressing them through hard work.  Check and check.

It helps that Oladipo can jump out of the gym and is long, but Crean can claim credit for finding Oladipo, assembling a dedicated staff, and putting together a plan that Oladipo can use to make the most of the hours of effort he is willing to invest each day.

Sheehey and Watford are in the same boat.  Dilligence is contagious, and the culture of hard work at Indiana can turn the hyperactive, laconic, selfish and/or indifferent into motivated and tenacious teammates who can get closer to their potential at Indiana than any other program they might choose.

That is Crean’s foremost job as a coach, and he is doing it extremely well.  The reward for building that culture is already being reaped as the recruits agreeing to come to Indiana continue to be better regarded each year.

My hope is that Crean continues to look for the right kind of kid, rather than the best pure players, and that he helps them become the best they can be.  I hope he continues to recruit Indiana heavily, allowing this program to represent the state’s game well, and be the destination of choice among Indiana’s youth.

Winning appears to be more important than anything else as coaches are evaluated, but the more important legacy is in teaching kids the lessons available through competition at the highest level – importance of hard work, balance in life, and unity in purpose.

Especially on a day Indiana lost to a Butler team that also embodies the best in student-athletic pursuits, fans need to remember that football and basketball programs are for the players.

Crean appears to understand that very well, and the players in the candy-striped warn-ups are very lucky to have him as their guide.

9 thoughts on “Indiana Basketball – Tom Crean Continues to Build IU Basketball the Right Way

  1. jeff showalter

    Come on Kent. VO was recruited by ND, X, Pitt and Maryland so he was going to do just fine. His improvement is more about him being a gym rat then anything Crean has done. In fact, Crean let’s him go out of control way more then he should allow.
    Sheehey was recruited by Michigan and Ga. Tech
    Watford was a 4* recruit and his game has been, well, awful all year.
    Crean has cost Zeller about 6 spots in next years draft as of today because Zeller doesn’t get nearly the touches he should get.
    No scout I have talked to gives Hulls a snowball’s chance in hell of making it in the league. See Alex Barlow replay. And I love Hulls because the kid is tougher then shit. (same people that told me Moore was the only PU kid that would play in NBA)

    Crean can get all the 4 and 5 star recruits he can muster but Brad Stevens and his 2 and 3 stars still whipped their ass today.
    Crean is still kind of shady, to me. Stevens doesn’t go get AAU coaches hired so he can get their recruits. Crean’s strength may be recruiting but he’s not near Stevens when it comes to X’s and O’s. Of course only Coach K and Bill Self may be at Stevens level.
    Sad thing is that Stevens will never go to IU and now doesn’t ever need to leave Butler. Once Butler joins the Catholic 7 to become a premier conference, Butler becomes a National Program. That means getting the Zeller’s and Ferrell’s of this state as well as players from the East coast (again without hiring east coast AAU guy).

    Crean has done a whale of a job selling the program, the University and himself to the masses. He has brought IU back from the abyss and for that I am happy. But crean has a ceiling and his ceiling is not as high as Stevens.

    IU fans and alumns (and I’m one) better get used to being the 2nd best program in the state because it may end up staying that way around 2015.
    It is great that both will be better then PURDUE! We can both agree on that.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Oladipo and Sheehey were ranked #144 and #141 in the 2010 class. They were immediately surrounded by Aaron Bowen, Markel Brown, Charles Hankerson, Brandon Spearman, Tyler Thornton, Ralston Turner, and Ahmad Starks. I’ll take Oladipo and Sheehey today.

      Compared to where they were three years ago as HS seniors, both have come a long way. There are reasons to question Crean, but player development isn’t one of them.

    2. Neil

      The day of a loss is not a time to critique and start rating coaches, players or development techniques. This sort of self flagellation comes out every time there is a loss. Stevens is good but his ceiling is that he would probably not fit in a school that competed day in and day out with the competition IU faces and will face. He may get that chance however if the scenario you mention comes to pass with those other basketball schools. IU learned today that every team they play is going to give all they have and they (IU) cannot afford to take a day off as it appeared they were doing. This game will help in the end if they use it as the learning tool they should. For whatever reason, the upperclass core of this team only seems to react to negative circumstances, especially Watford. Watford has been this way from day one much as Verdell Jones had his little picadillos, so does Watford. He still sees himself as a big guard and with NBA scouts out there telling him he needs to hit more threes, it certainly doesn’t help IU. We will have to see how IU reacts. I still see this team as behind where they would have been had Perea and Jurkin been available since day one. If one game lowers Zellers place in the draft then we have some really stupid teams and very stupid scouts out there. There are some though. I remember more than a few back in 1984 that thought that guy… “Michael someone” from North Carolina… was too big a risk to take at #1. Two players went in front of him and only die hard basketball fans remember Sam Bowie who went first. Of course everyone remembers the 6 titles Jordan won. I wonder where those scouts are? If Crean’s option to use AAU contacts or regional contacts grates against your “ethics” you had better put almost every Major college basketball coach on that list and that includes saint Krysevski at Duke.

  2. John

    Although not an alum, I’ve been an IU fan since the early ’70’s. I believe Crean has done an exceptional job rebuilding the program and cleaning up the remnants of the Mike Davis/Kelvin Sampson era. He has repeatedly shown he can recruit with the best on a national scale and must be doing well with the donors as he just got an extension to his contract. IU has an awesome team this year and should be top-5 in the nation for many years to come. IU is back and I don’t see how anybody can dispute that. Yes, they need to win a few Big 10 championships and go deep into the NCAA’s a few times for folks to really believe but IU is clearly among the elite once again. Take nothing away from Crean here, he gets a ton of credit.

    What I am not as keen on is his ability to hang with the elite coaches when it comes to X’s and O’s. I see him regularly getting out-coached in many of the big-time games. Leaving Zeller on the bench at the end of the Butler game is inexplicable. I saw the press conference and I heard his explanation. I’m sorry, IU has better talent than Butler at every position up and down the lineup. Don’t get cute. Play the percentages, clog up the middle and make Butler beat you from the outside. Alex Barlow may still have made the game winning shot but I’d still take Zeller planted in the middle of the lane to prevent exactly that type of uncontested shot.

    Regardless, IU was not going to be undefeated this year and losing to Butler in December is a lot better than losing to Michigan or Ohio State in the Big 10 season. Hopefully both teams learn from this and do the state of Indiana proud come March. Other than blog/sports bar bragging rights, nobody will ever really care who won this game.

    I realize the point of your article was about player development. I must admit I am not sold on Crean here yet either. I personally believe it is too early to declare him fit or unfit. He is getting top 5 recruiting classes so he is clearly getting potential NBA talent into the program. He isn’t taking middling players and making them all-pro. Let’s see how some of his IU recruits do in the NBA before we declare he and his staff above average or even excellent in the area of player development. I agree this one is tough though. If he does send players on to the NBA people will say he should as he has top-5 talent. If his players don’t go on to the NBA (for any reason), people will say he can’t develop talent. Time will tell here. Watching how Crean utilizes Zeller, I admit I am starting to get a bit nervous about how Crean choses to involve big men in his rotations and what that may mean for a kid like Zeller at a program like IU.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Well, let’s be realistic. Getting kids to be excellent college players is different from developing pros. Indiana won national championships with a couple of average NBA players on the roster, and a few other players who worked for Mr. Cook.

  3. Larry in Chicago

    Sterling, you are nuts. What next, how Theo and the boys are two players away from the World Series?

    Crean should have been fired immediately after the Butler game before he even got to the locker room and Stevens should have been given a 10-year contract to coach IU.

    By the way, when does the banner go up for winning the Legends Tournament?

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Larry in Chicago has friends who have been wounded to Tom Crean, and in personal interactions with Crean has seen an arrogant side that I have not. I implicitly trust Larry’s account of Crean’s behavior while at Marquette, but can’t allow it to color my opinion. When I spent time with the players, they were incredibly positive about their coach. If the players are on board, that’s hard to argue with.


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