Traditionally, Indiana fans are not the most patient in the world. They are used to -- or at least believe they should be used to -- winning.
Fourth-year coach Tom Crean has not done much winning at the school. He's 28-66 at IU, with a grand total of eight Big Ten wins and 46 Big Ten losses. That is not the kind of winning record Indiana fans expect. And yet, despite all the frustration, Hoosier supporters have by and large been remarkably patient.
There are a few reasons for this. One is recruiting; Crean's 2011 and 2012 classes drew much of their talent from inside the state. The 2011 class features top center Cody Zeller, while the 2012 class is one of the best in the country. Another is an understanding of the dire straights the program faced after Kelvin Sampson crashed and burned. But a third reason has to do with Indiana fans' gut feelings. These people seem to genuinely like their coach.
It's stories like this, from CSN Chicago's David Kaplan, that help to explain why. According to Kaplan, he received a call about Crean's interaction with a new freshman at Indiana this fall. The kid was "finding his adjustment to college life to be a difficult one," Kaplan writes, when Crean noticed the upset young man pacing in and out of the the lobby of Indiana's new basketball practice facility. At that point, he apparently decided to step in. From Kaplan:
Crean invited the student into his office and proceeded to hear his story and counseled the young man on how difficult the transition to college can be and encouraged him to stick with it. He also introduced the student to the rest of his staff and he got him an opportunity to work around the basketball program as a member of the athletic department.
The young man had turned off his cell phone after telling his parents that he needed to take a walk and think and his parents were very worried when they were unable to reach him. When Crean inquired as to whether the young man had spoken with his parents recently the young man said no. Crean called the parents, gave them his personal contact information and told them he would look out for their son. After arranging for a job in the athletic department the young man is reported to be doing very well and has adjusted to life away from home.
When I reached Crean today he didn’t want to comment, calling it a private matter but he did say that he hoped as the father of three kids that if the roles were reversed that someone would do something to help one of his kids should they be in a tough spot.
The story is a bit vague on what the young man was going through, but it almost doesn't matter. For many, the adjustment to college life is as joyous as it is frightening. For some, it's just frightening. And it can be hard to notice when someone feels so lost. When I was a freshman at Indiana -- full disclosure and all -- a floormate committed suicide by jumping out of his eighth-story window. None of us knew he was feeling upset. We just didn't notice.
Crean noticed, and then went a step further: He counseled the kid, offered him a prominent spot in the Hoosier community and reached out to his parents to let them know everything was OK. What's more, some coaches would flaunt this kind of story. They'd use it as a win-win -- I helped this kid, and hey, aren't I a great guy too? Similar to his quiet efforts to search for missing Indiana student Lauren Spierer earlier this year, Crean didn't do that, either. Impressive stuff.
At the end of the day, IU fans want to win. Given his recent recruiting success, Crean is likely to eventually produce those results. In the meantime, if you're wondering why so many Indiana fans have been so tolerant of three-straight sub-NIT seasons -- why everyone was so willing to get so excited after something so meager as a home win over Illinois -- this kind of story has a lot to do with it.
(Hat tip: Inside The Hall, where the commenters offer a good cross-section of what I'm talking about above.)