With a movement on the horizon, these Hoosiers delivered a revival

  • 03/26/2012 8:36 am in

The unforgiving reality of the NCAA Tournament was just beginning to rear its head inside Indiana’s locker room at the Georgia Dome in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Just six days earlier, the Hoosiers were riding a feeling they’d never experienced before in the Rose Garden in Portland.

The two scenes had few similarities.

In the first, smiles, hugs and excitement for what was ahead were on full display.

The second scene, however, fell at the opposite end of the spectrum. Eyes swollen from tears and looks of disappointment and sadness that the journey was finally over filled the room.

Welcome to March for every team besides the one who is fortunate enough to cut down the nets next Monday night in New Orleans. Ultimately, the journey ends with a feeling of emptiness for 67 teams.

So it’s with that premise that we’re forced to step back from that emotion and do our best to place perspective on the last five months rather than the final 40 minutes.

The 2011-2012 Indiana Hoosiers didn’t win a Big Ten championship. They didn’t reach a Final Four or win a national championship, either.

Historically, those are two feats that serve as measuring sticks of accomplishment for this program.

But in this season that was supposed to be one of transition and improvement, this group catapulted Indiana basketball back to the forefront of the national spotlight. Twelve wins to 27 wins with two coming over a pair of Final Four teams.

Who saw this coming? Save for the players and coaching staff, no one.

“Coming into it, I don’t think people thought we would be as good as we were,” Victor Oladipo said. “We knew we’d be good, but sometimes it was only us that knew we’d be as good as we were.”

Overshadowed, underestimated and disrespected many times throughout the way, this is the team responsible for the revival a year earlier than anticipated.

Through those swollen eyes and long faces as they sat in their jerseys they would have liked to wear for 120 more minutes, the sense of family and togetherness that existed all season shined through brighter than ever. As each player spoke from the heart, it became clear just how tight knit they had become.

“The seniors, they’re my best friends,” Will Sheehey said, holding back tears as he attempted to find the right words. “I’ll never have more fun playing basketball with anybody but those guys.”

One by one, around the room, the same themes and sentiments were expressed. There was talk of family, togetherness and gratitude for the five seniors who laid the foundation beginning in the early summer of 2008.

“This squad was very special,” Derek Elston explained. “Who knows if you’ll ever get a squad like this (again). The seniors, there’s just something special about them. From Kory (Barnett) to Dan (Moore), the guys who really don’t play a lot, to Verdell (Jones) and Tom (Pritchard) who get in there all the time. We shared a lot of laughs, we shared a lot of tears with this team.”

What made this season of Indiana basketball so magical was just how drastically they flipped the switch from the basement of the Big Ten to the Sweet 16.

After a limp to the finish line in the spring of 2011 that ended with nine straight losses, this team started with 12 straight wins, including an unforgettable buzzer-beating moment against No. 1 Kentucky at Assembly Hall on Dec. 10, 2011.

“We all believed in one another once we ended last season and started our summer workouts,” Jordan Hulls said. “We all really believed that we could get where we wanted to be. It was a great season as far as wins, obviously, but more importantly, how we came together as a team and won every game a different way and fought through adversity.

“We’re not satisfied with the outcome and losing tonight, but looking back on it, we have a lot of things to be proud of.”

The discussion, as is the nature in sports, will undoubtedly switch to “The Movement,” and the next steps for this program in the coming weeks.

But the ascent is already underway.

“It was an uphill climb that we had this year,” Tom Pritchard said, sitting in front a locker and wearing his No. 25 jersey for the last time. “We had a bunch of big wins, making it to the (NCAA) Tournament was a big deal. The Sweet 16 feels great, but we really wanted to win that game.

“I know these guys are going to look back at this (the Sweet 16 loss) and use it as fire to keep getting better and be more successful next year.”

Oladipo, sitting just a few chairs away from Pritchard, couldn’t help but to express his gratitude for being a part of the Indiana family.

“I’m glad where I’m at. I love these fellas,” he said. “I love my teammates. They’re all my brothers. I’m gonna be at all their weddings.”

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  • marcusgresham

    When my 12 year-old daughter is my age and older, she’ll be telling stories about this team, and every one of them will be a positive memory.

    (Especially about Victor, with whom she got her picture taken at Hoosier Hysteria and Will, who’s picture on the team poster she slaps every night when she lays down to go to bed.)

  • marcusgresham

    I’d rather see Siva do it so I don’t have to sweat the thought of Kentucky winning it all again for one more day than I have to.

  • marcusgresham

    The state has never declined.  The problem was that we lost so many of those guys to other programs, whether is was a desire to not play for Coach Knight, a lack of trust in Mike Davis, etc, a lot of talent left for other places (Zach Randolph, Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Jason Gardner, Josh McRoberts, etc…)

    While the talent never declined, finding the right leader to spearhead this return to the top has coincided with one of the greatest collections of talent the state of Indiana has ever seen to form an almost harmonic convergence for one of the most passionate, knowledgeable groups of fans anywhere; a group of fans who, following the past 20 years in general and specifically the last three, are more appreciative of the efforts than anyone not involved could ever imagine.  

  • marcusgresham

    The state has never declined.  The problem was that we lost so many of those guys to other programs, whether is was a desire to not play for Coach Knight, a lack of trust in Mike Davis, etc, a lot of talent left for other places (Zach Randolph, Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Jason Gardner, Josh McRoberts, etc…)

    While the talent never declined, finding the right leader to spearhead this return to the top has coincided with one of the greatest collections of talent the state of Indiana has ever seen to form an almost harmonic convergence for one of the most passionate, knowledgeable groups of fans anywhere; a group of fans who, following the past 20 years in general and specifically the last three, are more appreciative of the efforts than anyone not involved could ever imagine.  

  • marcusgresham

    Zeller—a year stronger, a year smarter; how many steals will he get next year?
    Oladipo–the stopper (as a sophomore) returning
    Sheehey–on of the most versatile defenders I can remember
    Watford (if he returns)–ended the year as determined a rebounder as I can remember  at IU (I don’t get all the way back to Steve Downing, but almost) and a 6’9″ forward who matched up with point guards
    Abell—as a freshman, the strongest player on the team and became the go-to defender when Oladipo wasn’t available

    Add in five new guys, at least three of whom (Patterson, Perea, and Jurkin,) who are probably better defenders than offensive players and another (Ferrell) who will become the fastest guy on the floor whenever he steps on it

    I think that defense is looking up

  • IUJack

    Watford is NOT first round material.  Don’t know why anyone on here thinks he is?  Stats don’t back it up.  Heck if you just looked at the stats, Jordy has a better positive impact on winning then C-Wat.  Last year Johnson from Purdue was a late pick in the first round and no way do I think C-Wat is as good as he was.  Add the fact that this years draft crop is deeper, C-Wat stays.

    If we have to worry about anyone this year it is Cody.  He is the only one on the team (this year) that a NBA exec would spend first round money on.  Still, C-Wat should put his name in and test the waters for the experience.  At least he will come back knowing what he has to work on.

    And yes, I think our defense should get better next year with the returning experience and the infusion of athletic talent coming in, but Crean needs to make it a priority to get better in that area. 

  • calbert40

    I think you are completely right.  After Bailey in 1990, IU only had seven Mr. Basketball winners commit, and one was Recker, so really only six in the span of two decades.  We had six Mr. Basketball commits from Alford in ’83 to Bailey in ’90.

    Not only that, as you mentioned, losing some of the caliber of players we lost over the past decade killed us on top of what we went through over the past 4 seasons.

    Now, it seems we have the right leader for the program at exactly the time when our Indiana HS talent is ridiculously deep.  It’s a good time to be a Hoosier!

  • HoosierFanInOZ

    Great Season – So proud to be a Hoosier Fan!  Love these guys and I am excited for the future. CTC is not only teaching BBall skills, he is teaching life skills to these young men.

    On a personal note, I am taking offers to keep my son and I away from road games. Living in the KC area, we attended road games at Nebraska and Iowa this past year.  Makes for a couple of LONG drives home. 

    Love our Hoosiers and we will continue to travel to see the Hoosiers as time and resources allow!  Thanks for a terrific season men!  Looking for more in the coming years!

  • OldTimeHoosier

    If next year is the start of “The Movement” than I think it’s only fair to give this years team a name, and your article name hit it on the nail; “The Revival”.

  • Kenneth234

    What is with NBA draft net?  Listing Cody Zeller as the number 1 pick overall.  Seems like there is an agenda trying to get him to leave school.  I want to know, who does this mock draft and what their agenda is…must be a UK fan, huh?

  • Kenneth234

    Nevermind, didn’t notice that it was a mock draft for 2013.  That I can understand.

  • IUJack

    I think you missed my point.  High ranked recruites like we will have next year don’t mean that we are going to the promised land like a lot of people on here state.  It just means that we will be good enough to get there assuming no injuries, no bad luck, or improper phone calls……