by Kent Sterling
Tom Crean came to Bloomington with his guns blazing and supreme work ethic careening around Monroe County at a frenzied pitch. He was like Yosemite Sam and the Tazmaniam Devil combined into one manic whirling dervish of recruiting zeal. There were hits and misses with kids and processes, but the one constant was frenetic movement.
Recruiting was engaged years in advance. Potential Hoosiers were offered before they played their first high school game based upon potential. Current players were “encouraged” to work tirelessly to build measurables, academics were stressed, and wayward behavior was barely acknowledged (at least publicly).
Everything in Bloomington appeared to be designed to support the narrative that Crean was doing a great job – as though each utterance from Assembly or Cook Halls was a strut that supported a reality that the program was in good hands.
As we know, the proof is in the pudding, and the Indiana pudding resulted in a 16-22 Big Ten record in the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 seasons. And then there were the arrests and suspensions that resulted from a lack of meaningful consequences being meted out by an authority figure that seemed eager to look the other if it might mean a more talented team would be on the floor.
There are currently no commitments by recruits to Indiana Basketball. None. Not in 2016, 2017, 2018, or beyond. Some see that as bad news. I love it. So many things can happen with a recruit who commits early that the commitment itself is mostly meaningless. Kids decommit, injuries occur, a 15 year-old who seemed to have his life together suddenly unravels and becomes a stoner. Then when the kid reports to Bloomington, the program is left with a wing nut who might drag others into his hazy vortex of irresponsibility.
I’m not sure the lack of commitments is Crean’s choice or whether he is benefitting from circumstances beyond his control, but either way, this is a positive for IU.
Crean grew a spine after pot smoke wafting from Devin Davis’s room in Hickory Hall last month caught the attention of someone who called the cops. Davis and Hanner Mosquera-Perea were banished. This was long in coming for Mosquera-Perea, whose DUI in February, 2014, should have been the only but last straw. Discipline seems to have emerged as a serious initiative in Bloomington. Whether that was due to an insistence voiced by athletic director Fred Glass or because of Crean’s own fatigue in dealing with idiots incapable of making good decisions, I don’t know, but a needed stern hand and voice is being backed by actions.
I love that too. Playing for Indiana is like a driver’s license – it’s a privilege, not a right. Nothing erodes enthusiasm for the straight and narrow like a supposed authority figure placating those who violate rules. A two-game suspension, which seemed to be the de facto penalty for crossing virtually every line became a joke among players, and this adios to Davis and Mosquera-Perea shows that on-court potential isn’t the only criteria for membership at Indiana Basketball.
And Indiana still has a scholarship or two to play with for 2015-2016, and I get the sense that there is no rush to fill those spots. Part of that equation is the thin but long shadow cast by Thon Maker, who may or may not choose to enroll in college this December and then bounce to the NBA six months later.
Again, the alleged appearance of this supposed refocus of priorities may be due to a serendipitous series of events that leads fans to believe that Crean has evolved into a leader capable of slowing down long enough to see the light. Or it might be a wisdom that has been slow in coming to a coach who has built a brand worth $3.16M annually from Indiana University, but yet to deliver more than two trips to the Sweet Sixteen and two winning seasons in the Big Ten in seven years as coach.
I’m choosing to give Crean the benefit of the doubt, and hope that Crean is becoming more like Indiana, rather than dragging the Hoosier program toward him.