When There’s Nothing On The Horizon You’ve Got Nothing Left To Prove: Saying farewell to the 2008-09 Indiana Hoosiers
Some rambling postseason thoughts on a Monday morning …
So, we’re a few days removed from Indiana’s season-ending first round loss to Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament. Ho, hum. We all knew the Hoosiers were probably going to lose. Whatever hopes we had of an upset were minimal and fleeting. And so the season ends, and on we go, set for another offseason that will be far less angry, anxious, and uncertain than last season’s.
Comparing the two situations is almost funny. This time last year, we had just been destroyed by Arkansas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Sure, Arkansas was a good team, and it was a tough draw, talent-wise, but by that point it almost didn’t matter. A once-promising season with a lineup stocked full of players was derailed entirely when Kelvin Sampson was fired for being a naughty boy. The team lost most of the rest of its games, limped into the NCAAs, and were promptly spanked. But it wasn’t the loss that was disconcerting. It’s what came before it, and what was still ahead.
Cue the offseason: a series of ugly incidents and confusing decisions punctuated by a brief moment of optimism. That moment was Tom Crean’s hire. It’s the hire IU should have made two years ago, when they instead chose a coach under investigation for having the cell phone tendencies of a 13-year-old meth addict. Crean was a steadier, calmer, more reasonable choice with just as good of a coaching record and a history of recruiting well in Indiana and Chicago. Why he wasn’t originally chosen to succeed Mike Davis is a mystery that still confounds to this day. (Then-IU president Adam Herbert’s insistence on a minority hire is likely the answer, but oh well. Spilled milk, and all that.)
By contrast, this year’s offseason promises to be far more quiet and far more enjoyable. For one, Crean won’t be undergoing a massive lineup turnover. There will be recruits to incorporate and some players from 2008-09’s team to wave goodbye to. But there won’t be a coaching change. There won’t be an NCAA rules committee hearing with an historic program’s future at stake. There won’t be any of that. It will be calm, and the only developments we have to fret over are how much better IU will be at all of the positions Crean recruited last season. It’s a welcome change.
But before we go forward, we must look back, and so, without further ado, here’s my one-word summary of the 2008-09 Indiana Hoosiers:
You might think I’d be more enthused, or less. I’m right in the middle, and here’s why.
IU, this year, managed to be both depressing and uplifting. They were unequivocally a horrible team. It’s a strong word to use, but it’s true; when you’re so futile in such a weak Big Ten, and you play so few veterans and your coach coaches so hard but to little avail, well, you’re horrible. It’s just how it is.
But in their horribleness, the Hoosiers also managed to be kind of interesting. Which would you prefer? A team that plays hard every night, that does all the right things, and that gets the most out of their potential — regardless of how limited that potential is — or one with two future NBA players and a host of great complements that gives up on itself when adversity hits? That folds under the pressure? That shows no spine, and no backbone, and no integrity? Of course you’ll take the latter. If bad basketball has to be part of that bargain, fine. For a year or two, we can make that trade, can’t we?
And so that’s what we got: A team that managed to make me less interested in general. But also one that occasionally shone through that disinterest, one that could, on occasion, inspire, if only by contrast to the disaster that came before it. The 2008-09 Indiana Hoosiers taught me, even in failure, that all of the romantic, moralistic cliches that underpin college basketball can, on occasion, be true.
Of course, now I’m ready to get back to being good at basketball again. Fortunately, that’s the other thing we learned this season: Tom Crean can really coach.
Think about it. Indiana, a team without any real, discernible talent, at least none on par with its opponents, was consistently in close games. They improved all season. Their final games were some of their most efficient efforts, and they got better at playing on the road. They had all the characteristics of a well-coached team. And they had no talent. Imagine the possibilities when Crean gets something workable going in Bloomington. The sky can reasonably be called the limit.
So, all things considered, I feel good. My favorite college basketball team just went 6-25, and 1-17 in the Big Ten. It just had its worst season ever. And I feel good. If that’s not a sign of the optimism at work here, I don’t know what is.