When Tom Crean arrived in Bloomington in April of 2008, his to-do list grew almost immediately after he was announced as the Indiana University basketball men’s basketball coach.
The rubble left in the aftermath of the Kelvin Sampson era, which can be best characterized as a program-crippling debacle, was larger than even Crean could have imagined.
But unlike the previous two coaches who sat in his position after Bob Knight’s dismissal — Mike Davis and Sampson — Crean spoke about Indiana’s storied tradition with words that actually had teeth. His emphasis on bringing back former players and coaches and reuniting a fractured fanbase was a big part of his plan to rebuild Indiana from day one.
As the long road to rebuilding Indiana inched along, it became clear that Crean’s words were not hollow.
Former players who had essentially disassociated themselves with the program under Sampson’s leadership returned and embraced what Crean was doing to put the pieces back together and build the Hoosiers into a national contender. Historic teams, like the 1987 championship team, Knight’s third at IU, reunited at Assembly Hall to celebrate with fans. Calbert Cheaney, the all-time leading scorer in the Big Ten and a Naismith and Wooden Award winner, joined the staff.
These are just a few of the countless examples of embracing tradition that have transpired under Crean’s watch that were unthinkable under previous staffs and administrations.
What also transpired was Crean and Athletics Director Fred Glass making it clear, publicly, that Knight was welcome to return to Bloomington at any time. When Knight was selected for the IU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2009, Glass penned a letter requesting he attend the ceremony. Crean was also clearly on board with the decision to honor Knight.
“I think it will be fantastic to be able to walk into that building and have people walk into that building and know that their coach is honored with all of the other greats at Indiana,” Crean said in Aug. of 2009. “Because certainly it’s one thing to have him in the Naismith Hall of Fame, but with everything he did at Indiana, the shelf’s not full yet. Let’s get the shelf full and get him in there.”
Knight decided against attending the ceremony, instead opting to send a letter to Glass which was read by his longtime friend and retired journalist, Bob Hammel. It was clear from that the wounds for Knight were still deep.
“I just have too much negative feeling toward some people and the things they did or did not do during my last few years and who had no understanding of either athletics or honesty,” he wrote.
As timed moved along, Knight’s stance on Indiana hasn’t appeared to shift much, if at all. As recently as September, when he was inducted into Ohio State’s Hall of Fame for lifetime achievements, a ceremony he attended, Knight was asked if he would accept similar recognition in Bloomington.
“Probably not,” he told a group of assembled reporters.
It seemed only fitting that Jordan Hulls would achieve a scoring milestone by knocking down a 3-pointer. It’s Hulls’ signature shot, after all, and a shot he’s been able to focus on even more this season with the addition of Yogi Ferrell.
In Thursday night’s 99-45 win against Sam Houston State, Hulls knocked down an open 3 from the top of the key to record his 1,000th-point, becoming the 44th player in Indiana history to accomplish the feat. After Hulls made the shot, Indiana coach Tom Crean called a timeout, walked out onto the court, and held Hulls’ hand in the air as the Bloomington native received a standing ovation.
Hulls was confused.
“I had no idea why I was getting my hand raised because I had just shot a terrible shot,” Hulls said of a deep 3 he missed earlier. “I’m not really into my personal accolades as long as the team wins, but it’s a pretty cool club to be a part of.”
Even Crean wasn’t entirely aware that Hulls only needed three more points to reach 1,000.
“I knew he was close, and I just completely lost track of where he was at,” Crean said. “He thought I was taking him out because he took a long 3. I love when he takes those 3’s. We need him to do that. I’m really, really incredibly proud that he got that. It’s an honor to coach him. He has grown so much as a player. He just keeps getting better and better.”
Hulls finished with 10 points on 3-of-7 shooting, including 3-of-6 from beyond the arc. Hulls also had five rebounds, five assists and no turnovers in 21 minutes. He becomes the second player on the current Indiana roster to hit the 1,000-point mark, joining senior forward Christian Watford.
“That kid epitomizes what we’re doing,” Crean said. “He epitomizes Indiana basketball in so many ways. I think people from the past can identify with him and the Hulls family, people in the future can look at Jordan Hulls and see what can happen when you play in this program, but most importantly, he impacts our present.”
Indiana senior Christian Watford (23 points, six rebounds), senior Jordan Hulls (10 points, five assists and five rebounds) and junior Will Sheehey (18 points, five rebounds) met with the media following the Hoosiers’ 99-45 win over Sam Houston State on Thursday night at Assembly Hall.
Watch and listen to the press conference in the embedded media player below:
I. Indiana breezed through their first two regular season contests, but tonight was just another level. Unlike the first two wins that started a little slow, Indiana was all gas, no brakes from the start here and this thing reached blowout territory before the halftime buzzer even sounded. It was, to quote the great offensive cliché, a clinic. The ball movement was hot — 24 assists on 30 field goals — and there were highlights galore. Jordan Hulls throwing no-look passes all over the place. (More on him in a bit.) Cody Zeller doing Cody Zeller things. Christian Watford finding a cutting Victor Oladipo on a give-and-go for a dunk. And Austin Etherington capping the night off in style with an alley-oop courtesy of Maurice Creek.
It was a laugher all evening, and the Hoosiers had fun clowning.
II. This was Jordan Hulls’ night. Beyond reaching 1,000 points — a special milestone Tom Crean made sure to highlight — there was just something about his attitude and demeanor that oozed confidence all over the court this evening inside Assembly Hall. He was knocking down threes and throwing impressive passes — Yogi who? — and having a grand old time with it all, seemingly saying this: “Yes, this is it, this is everything I dreamed of.”
He deserves your cheer. He deserves your praise.
III. I’m sure Alex and Justin will have imminent details about Tom Crean’s decision to bring Christian Watford off the bench for just the second time in his Hoosier career, but allow me some speculation while I have the chance before it’s either confirmed or refuted: Watford needs a kick in the butt every now and again. When he’s bringing energy and boarding and looking for putbacks and generally just seeming like he’s in it to win it, well, he’s an excellent college basketball player.
But consistency has always been an issue at times — something he noted he was looking to work on at Big Ten media day — and after grabbing a career-high 15 rebounds and scoring 15 points in Indiana’s opener over Bryant, Watford kinda disappeared against North Dakota State to the tune of just six points and four boards.
Will Sheehey, from all accounts, has worked his tail off all summer. Perhaps this was Crean’s way of showing he’s not beholden to a set starting lineup all season — whoever’s bringing it will play, no matter past history.