Indiana won three Big Ten games during the 2010-11 season. In the months leading up to the 2012-13 campaign, however, Tom Crean’s program has been pegged as a favorite to win the national title.
Crean talked to ESPN.com about next season’s team, his talented recruiting class and the expectations attached to the program.
How do you feel about the lofty preseason projections and rankings for your program?
Tom Crean: It’s really not to me what others would think. We don’t spend a lot of time on it. I spend more time looking at who else is ranked and how many times we have to play them. I don’t think in those terms and we certainly don’t work in those terms. It’s not like I dread it, it’s not like anybody shies away from it.
When you’re immersed in it, you stay in your own reality. And our reality is we’ve got a long way to go to get where we want to go. We’re going to have upwards of eight freshmen and sophomores on this team next year. Obviously, one of them is Cody [Zeller], but still, he’s only going to be a sophomore. And the bottom line for us is we’ve got to get a lot of guys meshed into this team.
If I felt like we had a group of guys who were caught up in that, then I’d be dealing with it a lot differently. But I don’t. I think it’s motivating them and it’s inspiring them to get better.
How will you get your talented recruiting class to blend with the returning players on your squad?
TC: I think for us, it’s going to be a combination of us putting even more on the incoming players this spring. We went into some of their schools in our last recruiting period to really kind of assess where they’re at, watching a lot of film … making sure now when they get here, we’ve got a real plan for how this team really starts to come together.
And that our upperclassmen, even the sophomores, do a great job of getting them immersed and feel a responsibility for them. And not just as buddies and future teammates but a real responsibility for these guys to get here and get immersed in the culture of our program.
What’s the expectation for Victor Oladipo (10.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg) next season?
TC: Just continuing to improve in all areas. There’s no question, his shooting and his range shooting. He’s a very good shooter; he’s got to become a more confident shooter. That the ballhandling continues to improve where his decision-making and his finishing become outstanding. He’s got to become a tremendous decision-maker for us and at the same time, he’s got to be an even better finisher.
He still misses too many shots he should make. Now he’s got to make those things against pressure. He has a flair for the dramatic and he has the ability to make some really tough shots. … The other thing I think he has to become is an even better all-the-time on-ball defender. He should be in the conversation for one of the best defenders in America.
Christian Watford had a great NCAA tournament and flirted with the NBA draft. How did he ultimately reach the decision to return and what’s his potential for next season?
TC: I was locked in the process. We were locked in the process with him of trying to help him be able to get drafted. I knew it was very important to have that opportunity to go. But I also knew he was looking at it with both eyes wide open, as was his family.
And when you look at it sideways and you look at it with rose-colored glasses, that’s when you make mistakes. And I’d have been a lot more concerned if I wasn’t doing that. He was looking at it with both eyes wide open. And that made the process that much smoother.
We got a lot of information from the decision-makers. … He saw every note that I took. He saw every word that I wrote down of what people said. And I really don’t hold anything back from them. Right now, he’s got to continue to get his strength. He had a heel issue during the year that we want to make sure his body continues to heal the right way. ... Take his shooting up another notch. And then, he’s really got to establish that he’s going to be a very, very good rebounder and that that skill will transfer to the next level.
He needs to be a better rebounder for us. But at the same time, he needs to be a proven, legit, tough rebound guy for the next level. And then I think he has to continue to build on what he did defensively this season. … He’s got to prove that he can guard anybody on that perimeter.
You have a talented incoming recruiting class (No. 10 on ESPN 100). How many players from that group will make an immediate impact?
TC: I wouldn’t break it down that way. I wouldn’t do that with them. I think everybody brings something different. And when you look at the rankings and where things are laid out, those rankings are there for a reason. These guys have done some really great things.
It won’t matter once they get here. It’s how they blend. It’s how they fit in. It’s the work ethic that they provide. There’s no doubt that we’re really trying to build a deep team … one where we can really get out and be far better defensively. If we’re far better defensively, there’s no doubt we’re going to be far better offensively.
The guys that figure out that the best when they get here will be the guys that have the best impact on our team.