Tom Crean took over an Indiana basketball program in tumult in April 2008.
Kelvin Sampson's departure from IU after an NCAA investigation and the ensuing defections of players – some with academic and discipline problems – left a scar on one of the nation's most storied hoops schools.
On came Crean from Marquette, where he had restored glory and raised a Final Four banner in 2003.
Year One in Bloomington was bumpy for Crean. The Hoosiers finished 6-25, 1-17 in the Big Ten. Playing an inexperienced roster that included freshmen, junior-college transfers and walk-ons in a league that featured seven NCAA tournament teams was at times embarrassing.
"Bumps? We had body parts removed a year ago," Crean said.
Hopes are a lot higher for his second season in the brutal Big Ten, arguably the deepest conference in college basketball. Crean welcomes a top-10 recruiting class featuring forward Christian Watford, guard Maurice Creek, guard Jordan Hulls, forward Derek Elston, center Bawa Muniru and forward Bobby Capobianco. The 2009-10 Hoosiers will be bolstered by Georgetown transfer Jeremiah Rivers and returners such as Tom Pritchard, Verdell Jones III and Devan Dumes, who have benefited from significant playing time.
Yahoo! Sports caught up with Crean at Big Ten Media Day and discussed a range of topics.
Q: What was the biggest takeaway for you personally with everything you went through last season?
A: "How valuable a feeling it is when you win. I think sometimes, when you are doing it, you take it for granted. You don't allow your players to enjoy it as much, and move on to the next thing. Second, I think if you play extremely hard, if you really go out and give everything you have, people will really appreciate that. That's got to be there first. Before you can be a real competitive team that takes the next step, you have to have the ability to play hard. We want to go from playing hard to being a team that can really compete and believe they are going to win. Last was how great the fan base is at Indiana – the way they supported us after everything that happened, how they really bought into that we were all in it together. The train wreck wasn't their fault, it wasn't our fault. It was there and we had to deal with it."
Q: What do you think was the biggest takeaway for returning players such as Pritchard, Jones and Dumes?
A: "I think we'll see when they get into games what their confidence level is like, based on the fact they're a year older. Some guys have definitely gotten better. I think that going through the Big Ten has helped them understand how physical the league is. Everbody's stronger. The skill value [in the Big Ten] is so high because of the way people play defense. You have to be able to make plays. We couldn't make plays when the defense didn't give us a shot last year. We couldn't compete on the backboards to get easy baskets. We didn't run well enough to get easy baskets in transition. And we certainly didn't defend well enough to create scoring opportunities off turnovers."
Q: What's a realistic expectation in terms of record for your team in 2009-10?
A: "I wouldn't do a numerical goal or an expectation with what I thought was a Final Four team and I'm certainly not going to do one with what we are dealing with. We're going to be better – I don't think there's any question. How it translates to winning, I don't know yet. I love where we are heading. But to think we are on par with other programs in this league right now would not make any sense. We want to get there. But where we sit right now, it's hard to put into perspective. We have to focus on getting better competitively, sustaining all the things we need to grow up and make progress, and get better throughout the year."
Q: What's been the biggest difference in terms of coaching and recruiting between Marquette and Indiana?
A: "At Indiana, when you get somebody on campus and they get a chance to see the fan base in action at Assembly Hall … every game is on television. There's five or six programs in America that, decade after decade, have been in the same breath – and Indiana has always been one of those. We don't want to do anything to lose that. We have to get it built back up. I would never take anything away from my time at Marquette. We didn't take a back seat to anybody in the state, in the [Big East]. I like having that mentality at Indiana as well because of where we're at."
Q: How does Dumes look and what are you looking for from him?
A: "He's made improvements. His ball-handling is not what I hoped it would be at this point, but he missed some time in the summer when he had knee surgery. … Devan has made strides. He's trying to understand what we want. But it's really a matter of everybody really being on the same page, knowing that we're going to move the basketball. We're going to share the basketball. We're not going to overdribble. … He can defend at a high level. He's proven that he can get points in this league. He can make shots. We just need our entire team to stay really focused on how the team gets better."
Q: Your father-in-law [Jack Harbaugh, formerly at Western Kentucky] and your brothers-in-law [Jim at Stanford and John with the Baltimore Ravens] are football coaches. How would you fare as a football coach?
A: "I'm a good assistant right now for 10- and 11-year-olds. We're still undefeated. The Packers of Bloomington are going to play for the championship. I don't know that I could go any farther than that."
Q: How would the Harbaughs do on the basketball court?
A: "They'd be excellent. Coaches are coaches. Competitive, organized, tough, winning mind-set, winning backgrounds. They'd be fine. Jim might not know as much about the game as he thinks he does, but he'd figure it out. He's a quick learner."
- Tom Crean