Indiana crowd welcomes Maurice Creek back from injury with touching ovation

A meaningless exhibition game between powerhouse Indiana and NAIA Indiana Wesleyan did produce one meaningful storyline.

Maurice Creek, who has played just 18 games since December 2009 as a result of three severe injuries, shed his warmups and checked into the game early in the first half to a standing ovation and the sound of the Indiana student section chanting his name. Creek then unexpectedly showed his battered legs still have some spring left in them, scoring a team-high 12 points in 15 minutes as Indiana pulled away for an 86-57 win.

There were times during the game when the magnitude of the moment appeared to hit Creek. Even after the game, he was still emotional, especially when talking with reporters about the warm reception the crowd gave him.

"It was a great, great, great reaction," Creek said during the postgame press conference. "Standing ovation? That's big time. That's love. I can't do nothing but thank them. I appreciate everyone who stood up for me."

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Creek is still a long way from carving out a spot in top-ranked Indiana's rotation once the season starts, but just returning to the team is an accomplishment after what he has endured the past few years.

In December 2009, Creek fractured his left kneecap, costing him the rest of his freshman season. Then in January 2011, Creek suffered a stress fracture in the patella of his other knee, ending his season early once again. And worst of all, Creek tore his left Achilles walking upstairs to his apartment in October 2011 days before the start of practice last season.

The injuries robbed Creek of the explosiveness he demonstrated early in his freshman year when he established himself as Indiana's best player and appeared capable of playing in the NBA within a couple years. Prior to the first knee injury, he averaged 16.4 points per game, shot 44.8 percent from 3-point range and memorably erupted for 31 points against Kentucky.

That elite player is gone for good, in spite of his success Thursday night. Creek can't attack the rim the way he once did because his quickness just isn't the same.

But while Creek may not be able to overtake Victor Oladipo, Will Sheehey or even Remy Abell in the Indiana rotation at wing, he proved Thursday he may be able to give the Hoosiers a few quality minutes here and there when called upon. If so, he'll be the feel-good story in a program that will probably have plenty to feel good about this winter.

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