Special to the Tribune-Star
In college athletics, they don’t give a medal for hope, but they should have given one to Tom Crean when he took over a totally dissipated Indiana University basketball program.
Crean’s IU predecessor, Kelvin Sampson, was doing what he had been doing at Oklahoma. Plainly spoken, he was cheating.
Then, when Indiana State, coached by Royce Waltman, defeated Oklahoma in the NCAA tournament, Oklahoma was fit to be tied. And the reason is quite simple. They were geared up to win by cutting every corner, and cheating where they could.
Then, Tom Crean was hired away from Marquette University where he had taken a team to the Final Four. When he was asked why he left this program he was building, he said, “It’s Indiana!”
Now, in spite of five NCAA championship flags flying in Assembly Hall, numerous NCAA appearances, and many Big Ten championships, everyone knows the state of Indiana is just plain crazy over basketball. (If you have seen the movie “Hoosiers,” you understand.)
Tom Crean did not start with a great recruiting effort. His cupboard was bare and he had to go elsewhere on campus to fill out his basketball ranks, but his energy, his love of the game, his honesty, and old-fashioned enthusiasm carried the day. The recruits began to hear the call of the Bloomington campus.
Now the ranks are bursting with very good players, this Indiana team is ranked No. 1 and, as I write this, undefeated.
Tom Crean would say it’s the players who are doing this … Victor Oladipo, Will Sheehey, Christian Watford, Jordan Hulls, and of course the big guy, Cody Zeller.
But, Coach Crean, may we call the cards as we see them? It all began with your willingness to gamble on IU. Let us hope they can continue on this path. (They probably won’t go undefeated throughout the season, because that is almost impossible.) Maybe they can win the NCAA Tournament and keep the pipeline full of talented young men willing to wear the Cream and Crimson.
Ronn Mott, a longtime radio personality in Terre Haute, writes commentaries for the Tribune-Star. His pieces are published online Tuesday and Thursday on Tribstar.com, and in the print and online editions on Saturday.