Never has the coach of a storied program celebrated a 2-6 record in conference play quite so enthusiastically as Indiana's Tom Crean.
As hundreds of success-starved Indiana fans savored Thursday night's 52-49 upset victory over 21st-ranked Illinois, Crean joined them in the south lobby of Assembly Hall not long after the final buzzer. The third-year coach high-fived revelers, clapped and pumped his fists before leading the frenzied crowd in the school's traditional chant of "Hoo-Hoo-Hoo Hoosiers."
It's a testament to what Indiana has endured the past few years that a home win over good-but-not-great Illinois inspired a court storming and a postgame party once reserved for wins that clinched conference titles and Final Four berths.
A wave of defections in the wake of Kelvin Sampson's firing left scandal-tainted Indiana with only two returning players when Crean took over the bombed-out program entering the 2008-09 season. The Hoosiers went 6-25 in his first season and 10-21 last year, dropping 19 straight games against ranked opponents prior to Thursday's victory over the Illini.
In spite of Indiana's recent woes, however, there are probably fans who would prefer Crean behave in a manner more befitting a program with five national championships, third-most of any Division I school.
It's rare for any coach to let loose like that after any regular-season victory, especially one that didn't exactly signal a return to national relevancy. The Hoosiers (11-10, 2-6) had lost eight of nine games entering Thursday night and remain in ninth place in the Big Ten even after the victory.
Whether you're among those who believe Crean's over-the-top show of emotion was a much-needed energy boost or premature and ridiculously excessive, there's one thing on which we all can agree.
If Indiana wins a game under Crean that truly signals a return to national prominence, the afterparty in Bloomington is one nobody should miss.
- Tom Crean