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Thursday, February 18, 2010
Crean: 'We weren't dealing with normalcy'

By Eamonn Brennan

Indiana basketball fans are not happy. There is good reason for this: Their historic program is in Year 2 of a brutal rebuilding period following Kelvin Sampson's cell phone-induced implosion, and despite a top-10 recruiting class in 2009, the Hoosiers aren't showing any progress on the basketball court. IU fans have frustration to vent. On message boards and blog comments and e-mail and pretty much everywhere you can talk about basketball, they're doing so. Oftentimes, they're targeting Tom Crean.

Tom Crean
Tom Crean took over a Hoosiers team in 2008 that was in total disarray.
A quick example: My roommate, an IU fan apparently appalled by a home loss to Michigan State, e-mailed his friends Wednesday saying -- get this -- that he wished Indiana had Mike Davis back, because "at least Davis could coach X's and O's." For all of Mike Davis' sideline skills, this had to be a first time an Indiana fan actively pined for Davis' return. Said roommate was immediately rebuffed and later apologized to the group, but the damage was done. A new low had been reached.

The frustration is understandable -- no one wants to see the home team play lifeless, depressing, get-beat-at-home-by-20 basketball -- but it's also completely misguided. Tom Crean hasn't felt the need to explain this until, well, yesterday:
Crean has termed the post-Kelvin Sampson mess "an athletic disaster'' and "a greater challenge than I'd ever imagined.'' Hoosiers athletic director Fred Glass called it "the equivalent of a death penalty in basketball.''

When Crean arrived in 2008, he inherited a program infected by drugs and unbothered by academic achievement. "Nineteen Fs,'' he said. "Drug counselors. If we'd taken short cuts on the drug and academic issues, we'd be sitting here just fine right now, believe me.''

As it was, Crean purged the program of anyone tainted. When he finished, he had one returning scholarship player. "Our first semester here, the basketball program had its lowest grade-point average in school history,'' said Crean. Last term, 10 players had GPAs of 3.0 or better.

Most people gave Crean a buffer when he arrived, noting the dire nature of the situation, but Indiana fans are impatient and proud, and they haven't managed their expectations with anything approaching reality. (Most have also seemed to forget that Indiana's best player, freshman Maurice Creek, was lost for the season to injury in December.) If Crean's program looks this bad in 2012, Indiana fans will be right to wail and caterwaul about the declining state of Indiana basketball, about how Crean isn't coaching his guys up, about how Bob Knight would have done things differently, about Purdue's success, about all of it. That'll be fair.

But the current situation calls for a little more perspective. Take a deep breath, Hoosiers fans. This is starting to get silly.