The coach would have been within his rights to curse the basketball gods. He might even have been within his rights to bail for another job. But he stayed true to his word (and contract), hardly a given in today’s college sports climate, and soldiered on. He worked the state like a candidate running for office, winning back supporters and inviting former players to attend practices and games and address the team. Crean’s squads, stocked as they were with likable kids who went to class, avoided the criminal-justice system and competed with unstinting effort, were winning fans if not games.
And then the Fates changed their tune. The Hoosiers won their first eight games of the 2011–12 season. On Dec. 10 junior forward Christian Watford drilled a three-pointer at the buzzer as Indiana beat top-ranked Kentucky. Keith Smart didn’t induce this much fanfare. Delirious fans—including what now purports to be the largest student section in the country—covered the court, and a video of fans’ reaction at Nick’s, the popular on-campus bar, was a YouTube sensation. This was catharsis.