Tom Crean shifted in his seat and paused to collect his thoughts.
The mere mention of Collin Hartman’s knee injury was enough to trigger an emotional response from the Indiana basketball coach prior to the first practice of the preseason Friday.
“I just love that kid,” Crean said, choking up regarding the indefinite loss of his lone senior.
Whether Hartman plays a single minute for Indiana this season remains unclear after he underwent surgery on his injured left knee on Monday. While meeting with reporters an hour before the afternoon practice, Crean did not disclose the nature of Hartman’s injury and said it was still too soon to map a timetable for his recovery.
But the IU coach was noticeably rattled knowing that Hartman’s potentially final season has been altered by injury.
That much, Crean made clear.
“He’s been through so much,” Crean said. “… I don’t have a timeline because I’m most concerned right now about his mindset. He just got back here. That young guy was putting so much into getting ready to be our senior leader. We’re gonna need him. We’re gonna need that right now, but most importantly, we gotta help lead him because he’s been through some traumatic injuries in his life.”
Hartman’s injury, which he suffered while planting his foot during an individual non-contact drill on Sept. 20, is his second serious knee issue since arriving at Indiana. He also injured the ACL in his right knee immediately after his freshman season in 2014.
Unfortunately for Indiana, Hartman wasn’t the only player unable to practice Friday.
The Hoosiers have authored a lengthy injury report over the past few months, with Hartman the latest player sidelined.
Sophomore forward Juwan Morgan has not yet been cleared by doctors after a spring shoulder surgery. Junior college wing Freddie McSwain also underwent a procedure to clean up an old knee injury that flared up recently and is currently unavailable.
Crean said both Morgan and McSwain are still at least a few weeks away from receiving their medical clearance for the season.
“We have not had a healthy team yet,” Crean said. “That goes from when the season ended in (in the Sweet 16 in) Philadelphia, to when we get started today.”
The good news is that IU’s few other injury issues don’t seem to be lingering into the new season.
Robert Johnson, who had ankle surgery shortly after his sophomore season ended, was cleared to practice last Monday. James Blackmon Jr., his classmate in the backcourt, has been fully available for the last two weeks.
Sophomore OG Anunoby dealt with a groin injury that limited him this summer, but he was ready to go full-speed on Friday. Crean said, too, that freshman De’Ron Davis had been limited off and on over the past few weeks “with a couple injury situations that have shut him down from time to time.”
“At times this summer, we never went up and down the court five-on-five because we didn’t have enough healthy guys to do that,” Crean said. “We got better, we had great workouts, everybody has improved, but we haven’t had that.”
Which might explain further why Hartman’s latest injury has Crean concerned.
A championship-caliber team, which is exactly what this year’s Indiana squad projects to be, needs players like Hartman both in games and in practice. He emerged as a valuable glue guy across the past two seasons, endearing himself to his teammates, coaches and IU’s fans for his willingness to make the hustle plays and occupy a variety of roles.
Crean did confirm that, should Hartman need it, a redshirt year is a possibility.
“It’s gotta be something, down the road, that he would want,” Crean said. “It’s too early. You can speculate the moment it happens, but it’s too early to put a real timeline on exactly what we’re dealing with. We’ll see how he responds.
“He is a senior. Let’s see how he responds to the rehab. That certainly would be on the table, for sure, down the road. I’m more concerned — rather than timelines and looking down the road at that — (with) him getting his mindset, because he was in a great place.”