Maurice Creek posted on his Twitter account on Thursday night that he had just run 3.2 miles in 26 minutes, and used the accompanying hashtag #Imback. Hours earlier at Indiana’s media challenge/media day, Creek said he’s as close to full strength as he’s going to be after suffering season ending injuries in each of the last three years.
“I’m feeling great,” Creek said. “Feeling close to 100 percent. Can’t ever be back to 100 percent because of the injuries. To have strength and to be doing what I’m doing now is a blessing because some people would try to quit on it, but these guys never quit on me. They just made me stronger every day and never let me slip.”
Creek said he still feels explosive and still feels like he’s been able to expand his game even while in almost a constant state of rehab since December of 2009. He’s not exactly sure what his role will be, but Creek said Indiana coach Tom Crean just told him to let the game come to him.
“He just wanted me to score the ball and contribute any way I can to this team,” Creek said. “He tried to explain to me that you coming back is, take your time with that, don’t try to rush anything. Just be yourself and go with the team flow and everything. He’s put me in the right spot. I can do nothing but thank him for that. … I feel like everything’s there. I feel like my movement’s there. Defensively, I can still get better on that. Offensively, I can move, driving, slashing, shooting, getting my feet right. Everything is there.”
— Preseason magazines have never included as much praise for Indiana as they have so far this fall and a number of publications, including the Sporting News and Athlon, have already picked the Hoosiers to win the national title. Freshman center Cody Zeller was the Sporting News’s Player of the Year and is considered the top player in several other publications as well.
“It’s a little bit different from a standpoint of people are starting to like us a little bit,” senior guard Jordan Hulls said. “… It’s a little bit different mindset that we have a target on our backs a little bit now.”
Unsurprisingly, the Hoosiers mostly said they wouldn’t let the hype affect them, and that it wasn’t all that important. Zeller downplayed both the team ranking and his personal preseason accolades.
“I don’t really care,” Zeller said. “The beginning of the season doesn’t matter too much. We’re trying to be ranked No. 1 at the end of the season.”
But the upperclassmen could at least appreciate the praise considering how far they’ve come after three straight losing seasons to begin the Tom Crean era. Even last season, when the Hoosiers ended up in the Sweet 16, they were picked by most pundits to finish in the bottom half of the Big Ten.
“I don’t try to block it out,” senior forward Derek Elston said. “I like the fact that people think we’re the preseason No. 1 team. It means that we’ve come a long way. But I take that every day and I just use that as motivation. Now that we are No. 1, we don’t want to lose it, whether it be just a preseason ranking, or when the season comes we are ranked No. 1. We just want to keep that throughout the season and see how long that lasts. And with the attitude we’ve been putting in, I think it should last a long time.”
Elston said he wouldn’t buy a magazine with IU on the front, though.
“If it was given to us, I’d take it,” he said. “But I don’t think I’d go out and buy it, no. That’s the kind of stuff you just look at, you smile, and you keep going.”
— Freshman forward Hanner Perea said he’s been back in action for about a week and a half after missing much of the summer and fall with a foot injury. He said strength and conditioning coach Je’Ney Jackson is working him as hard as possible to make sure he gets back quickly.
— Several Hoosiers talked at length about a number of situations that allowed the team to build team chemistry quicker and incorporate the freshmen quickly. The additional work they were able to do with coaches in the summer helped, but so did a mentorship program instituted by Crean in which the upperclassmen took specific freshmen under their wings.
“It’s going to be huge, because they’ll have something to gauge off what they can do the next years following, what they can teach the new freshmen coming in,” senior point guard Jordan Hulls said Thursday at Indiana’s Media Day and Media Challenge. “How practices are going to be run, how you’re supposed to prepare for practice. What you’re supposed to eat. How do you dress, what you wear, everything like that. They’re just learning. They may not know right now, but it’s the little things that are gonna help them out in the future.”
The most interesting mentorship story came from Elston, who was working with freshman center Peter Jurkin. He noticed Jurkin was struggling to catch the ball, so he invited him to Cook Hall to throw baseball with him.
“What I would do with Peter is bring him in here, and I just got to know him,” Elston said. “Asked him questions, how it was like at home while we were just throwing the baseball in Cook. That’s one of the things about Cook Hall is it’s not just all basketball minded. I grabbed a ball, Jordan’s glove and mitt and a ball, and we just threw pitch and catch. I don’t think he really realized that I was helping him with his hands, but it’s just that kind of stuff that we were trying to do.”
Jurkin didn’t, in large part because he didn’t know that much about the sport he was playing. He is, of course, from the South Sudan. He came to the United States several years ago through the Bloomington-based A-HOPE program and played his high school basketball at United Faith Christian Academy, but before Elston put a glove on his hand, he’d never played baseball before.
But he enjoyed it, and he apparently saw results from it.
“It was really good,” Jurkin said.
Said Elston: “Let me just say this. He wasn’t the best at pitch and catch either. But after a couple of times doing, it, I don’t think he realized what he was doing, he was just going with the flow. … It’s turned him into a great player so far. I just can’t wait to see what practice does for him.”