Within a day of the national championship game, it was obvious to Indiana that the 2012-13 season would take on an entirely different character from 2011-12.
After a campaign in which the Hoosiers played the underdog card all the way up until the Sweet 16 and constantly reminded themselves about an informal pool of Big Ten reporters that picked them to finish ninth in the conference as well as various prognosticators suggesting that they wouldn’t survive their two games in Portland, they will not be able to say anything this season about no one believing in them. A majority if not a consensus of publications tabbed Indiana as the likely preseason No. 1 in the day’s following Kentucky’s national championship, meaning these Hoosiers will have something to live up to.
How that will manifest itself in the long term is yet to be seen, but Tuesday, in Tom Crean’s first press conference since the Hoosiers were eliminated by Kentucky in the tournament last month, Crean said that he doesn’t expect the preseason hype to affect the way the Hoosiers prepare.
“If this group last year would have been caught up in lack of expectation, there’s no way they would’ve worked in the offseason the way that they worked,” Crean said. “It’s the same thing now. Whatever expectations are out there are really irrelevant to what their goals are, to what their own personal expectations are and to what they want to accomplish together.”
The underdog mentality obviously made a positive difference, as the Hoosiers went into every situation attempting to prove wrong. That isn’t there as a driving force anymore, but Crean said that doesn’t make a difference.
“The perception on the outside isn’t necessarily what the perception is on the inside,” Crean said. “… The guys I’ve been around in those workouts, the guys I’ve been around in the weight room in the last three weeks, I don’t have any concerns about how hungry they’re gonna be. That’s even before we’re all together in the summer time. Those things are fun to talk about and they’re interesting, but when you’re in house and you’re inside of it every day, if someone was acting like that I think it would show up pretty quick. And if that day comes, it will be short lived.”
With everyone bought in, Crean said, the goal for the offseason is to build on three things.
The first, he said, was strength.
“We’ve got to become a stronger team,” Crean said. “We measure ourselves against the best players and the best teams. There were times when we weren’t strong enough, whether it was maturity wise and body, whether it was age or whether it was just plain will power, whatever it was, we’ve gotta be stronger in more situations. We’ve gotta have more thickness to us, just more stability in that strength gain. We made tremendous strides a year ago with (strength and conditioning coach Je’Ney Jackson) having a full year here. I think we’ll make that many more this year.”
Next, Crean said, the players need to win more “one-on-one type of battles.”
“Whether it’s a 50-50 ball, whether it’s stopping somebody one-on-one, whether it’s the ability to break somebody down,” Crean said. “Not be better one-on-one players, but win more one-on-one situations, and there’s a difference. Our ability to share the ball this year, our ability to move the ball, our ability to play through and at Cody and have so many people do so many good things and so many people jump in numbers can really take another step if we can get better in those matchups and we can get better in those individual situations.”
The third, Crean said, was the Hoosiers simply have to be better defensively.
“If we’re better defensively, we’ll be a better defensive rebounding team,” Crean said. “We’ll be able to play at a faster pace because our defense will allow so many more things to happen for us. We’ll be able to get out in transition that much more. We’ll be able to create off turnovers that much more.”
Crean said he’s seen the team locked in on all of those aspects.
“We’re really preaching a lot about quality, not quantity right now,” Crean said. “We’re preaching improvement. But most importantly, we’re preaching to the choir, we really are. They are absolutely locked in to what they need to do. They’re hungry. I could see the hunger in this group a year ago, but they weren’t quite sure where they were going with it. I think this group right now, because they’ve tasted it, because there’s going to be so much real competition that they can absorb, not that we talk about, but that they feel and absorb. I think that gives them even more room for growth. … These guys are really, really at a high level of work right now. I have no reason to believe that it’s not going to carry on. But it has to. That’s the caveat. It has to. There’s no room for anyone in this program to not get better. There’s no room for any of them to rest on what they thought they did or think they’re going to do. It’s about continual improvement.”
Crean addressed several other topics over more than 35 minutes in a press conference. Possibly a career long. Some of them follow.
— Crean addressed the assistant coaching search and implied that Calbert Cheaney, the director of operations and Indiana’s all-time leading scorer, has the ball in his court. Because former assistant Bennie Seltzer left to take the head coaching job at Samford and the Hoosiers have an open spot, the director of ops is by rule allowed to go on the road recruiting during the interim, as long as he passes an NCAA administered recruiting exam, which he’s obviously done. He’s also allowed to coach during workouts, which has made this something of a trial period. Crean and Cheaney are in conversations, he said, about Cheaney’s role with the program, and it sounds as if its Cheaney’s decision about whether or not he will be promoted.
“We’re going to get through the rest of the week,” Crean said. “We have a recruiting period this weekend. Calbert and I have been discussing what the next step is for him in the program or to stay in the place that he’s at right now, which he very well may want to do. I’ve got some people in mind if he does decide to stay in that position. I’ll move fairly quickly, I would think, once this recruiting period is up. I’m not going to discuss the process of that, other than that it is a process.”
Crean was asked directly if Cheaney was his top pick for the job.
“It’s not that simple,” Crean said. “It’s more about what he wants to do right now. Calbert’s been outstanding. One way or the other, he has a great role in the program.”
Crean said that if he does look elsewhere the first thing he will look for is “fit.”
“We had great chemistry,” Crean said. “… Last year’s staff, top to bottom, was as good as I’ve ever been around. … There’s certain things that we would want. Recruiting certainly plays a part in this. Player development plays a huge part in this. I think because the staff is so strong, any coach that comes in has got to be able to hold his own. This is a program that you would never walk in and just see one or two assistant coaches standing on the side and not being involved in practice. If you coach here, you’re involved. That’s the way I was raised and that’s what I want. I would never want to work with a wallflower. … I think past experiences will play into it. I’m way past going the stranger route and going the recommendation route.”
—– Crean was asked about discussions with creating a series with Louisville, because Louisville coach Rick Pitino has said that he’s willing to play Indiana whenever Crean is up for it. Crean said Indiana’s not close to that for this season because the schedule is already too loaded with premier games and he’s still in talks with Kentucky trying to continue that series.
“We’re nowhere,” Crean said. “It’s not that it couldn’t happen, but I don’t foresee it next year. We have the Kentucky game, which is still being talked about and worked on. It’s not set in stone because as many of you know, Kentucky doesn’t want to play it on campus anymore. That’s certainly not our first choice. Keeping it on campus is without a doubt our first choice. When it’s all said and done, to my knowledge, Kentucky is the one that moved it back to campus before we came. To my knowledge. That’s what I’ve been told. We’ve got that to play out. We’ve got UCLA, Georgetown and Georgia in a tournament. Butler’s a top 20-25 team again. We play them in the Crossroads Classic. More than likely we’ll have North Carolina or North Carolina State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and then we have the league.”
— Crean said guard Maurice Creek is still not participating in live action after missing last season with a torn Achilles tendon and suffering season ending knee injuries the previous two years.
“Maurice has got to become as hard a worker as there is on the team,” Crean said. “That hasn’t always been who he’s been. That’s what he’s gotta be. He’s gotta get into that Will Sheehey, Victor Olaidpo, Jordan Hulls, I’m-gonna-be-in-the-gym-morning-noon-and-night kind of mind set. Because he can’t play yet. We have put him in a few small contact situations, but nothing in the sense of live, up -and-down-the-court. He’s not playing in pick-up games, stuff like that. We have high expectations for him in house. There’s no question about it, to control what he can control. Certainly, he’s gotta get his lower body stronger, continue to as his lower body heals up completely. We’re still fighting some of those things strength wise because of all of the injuries he’s had to his lower body. He has to get back to being one of the best shooters in the country. Because when he got hurt the first time, that’s basically where he was heading. It wasn’t like that his sophomore year because he wasn’t back enough yet, but he’s gotta get into that mode, because it’s gonna be very competitive for him. This is the time of year you can get the jump on that. … I’m very optimistic based on his three weeks of offseason, let’s put it that way.”
–Christian Watford is taking some time off, Crean said, because of a heel injury that he played through most of the year, but he played throughout a three-week spring period.
–Crean was asked about the scholarship crunch. The Hoosiers are oversigned by one with 14 players on scholarship with the NCAA limit of 13. Crean said he has until fall semester to have it figured out.
“There’s not a big plan and there’s really not a timetable,” Crean said. “Those things work themselves out. They always have. Again, it’s just the way that it is. It’s certainly something that’s on the horizon, but there’s no timetables.
— Crean didn’t give a concrete answer on the future of Matt Roth. Roth has a fifth year of eligibility available because of a broken foot that cost him all but two games of his sophomore year. Roth was listed as a senior all season and even participated in senior day activities, and he would add to the scholarship crunch if he maintained a full ride. He’s also already graduated and is expected to get his master’s degree in May. However he showed he still has value to the program, knocking down 42 of his 77 3-point attempts this season, an astounding clip of 54.5 percent.
“He’s keeping his options open, which is good,” Crean said. “He’s focused right now on finishing up because he’s had such a big road this academic year to get where he wanted to be in his masters. He’s got options. He’s got options of keeping his eligibility, and at the same time, I think in his mind he’s playing for the future and planning to make that next jump. The advice I gave him was just to keep your options open, as you go through this and as we go through this.”
Crean was asked if there’s a spot for Roth if he decides to stay.
“We’ll have to wait and see,” Crean said. “Any discussions like that will be in-house. I just want him to keep his options open and what’s best for him moving forward. There’s no question that he’s looking into his future. He’ll be the decider of that for the most part.”
— Crean addressed the decisions of Watford and Cody Zeller to stay at Indiana. He said he discussed their potential draft stock with numerous executives and scouts to get a real idea of where they belonged. He said he wouldn’t say where Watford was projected but said that NBA teams have taken notice of the rising senior forward.
“I wouldn’t discuss that,” Crean said. “Where he was projected, it varies. Where he could end up, it varies. The bottom line is he’s on the radar in a very strong way. That’s the most important thing. People are really paying attention. So if certain things improve for him, which are basically the same things that need to improve for us, I think that really, really helps him.”