Elston’s bumpy ride

  • 03/03/2013 3:50 pm in

Faced with a career full of obstacles, Elston still found ways to contribute

By Justin Albers

Derek Elston and the rest of his class stepped onto campus in 2009, not knowing what to expect. Elston had honored his commitment to the Hoosiers despite a coaching change, but this wasn’t what he signed up for.

Elston, a Tipton, Ind. native, committed to the Hoosiers in Sept. 2007 as a high school junior. Former North Central standout and current New Orleans Hornet Eric Gordon was set for his freshman season at Indiana, and would be a junior when Elston got to Bloomington if he stayed in school.

It was the dream Elston had always envisioned. He would play for the state school under a coach he really liked in Kelvin Sampson, and be part of a team loaded with talent.

That’s not how it worked out.

030313rBolt for Butler?

Sampson was gone in 2008, Gordon bolted for the NBA, and Tom Crean was hired to come in and clean up the mess. Others left too, leaving Crean and the Hoosiers with virtually nothing. IU finished its first season under Crean with a 6-25 record. The 2009 class arrived on campus and won only ten games in its first season at Indiana and 12 in its second.

Elston and his classmates started to wonder what they had gotten themselves into.

“Most of the questions came from my dad, just a couple questions about what I wanted to do,” Elston said. “A couple guys on the team were kind of wondering what everybody was gonna do. At that time, we had some guys on the team that had a lot of talent. A lot of people thought maybe Butler would be the right move because, at that time, they had made it to the finals twice.”

But no one left for Butler. The core of the class remained intact. Elston, who had never been recruited by Crean and didn’t always see eye to eye with him in his early years at Indiana, honored his commitment and stayed with the Hoosiers.

‘Why is he yelling at me?’

While everyone in the program experienced the struggles of the first two years under Crean, Elston’s classmates eventually prospered. Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls have had memorable careers and have been a large part of Indiana’s on-court renaissance.

Things never came as easily for Elston. His Indiana career has never been what he anticipated it’d be when he signed back in 2007. In his first two years, he struggled to understand and adjust to the college game. When he got on the court, he would too often be out of position, and he’d find himself right back on the bench.

A lot of Elston’s struggles came as a result of an inability to understand Crean. When he made mistakes and Crean yelled at him in practice, Elston didn’t know how to react. Associate head coach Tim Buckley eventually acted as a buffer.

“When coach Crean would get on me about things I was doing wrong, coach Buckley would grab me off to the side and just say, ‘I realize he was yelling at you, but you have to realize what he was saying in those words,'” Elston said. “And that’s what I kind of didn’t get in those early years. I got coach Crean kind of yelling at me, and I was like, ‘Why is he yelling at me?’ And coach Buck would be, ‘But what did you take from it?’”

It wasn’t only Crean that Elston didn’t feel comfortable with. He didn’t really seem to click with the older players on the team, so he usually stayed quiet and tried to learn by observing.

“I didn’t really ask a lot of questions just because I didn’t really know the guys,” Elston said. “A lot of the guys, it just wasn’t there. You couldn’t ask them, and they really didn’t know. It was all kind of everywhere, everybody was everywhere.”

Eventually, the game slowed down for Elston, and more talented players entered the program. But other issues emerged. After getting off to a solid start last season by scoring in double figures in two of his first five games, Elston suffered a broken nose that forced him to wear an uncomfortable mask. Again, it took him awhile to adjust.

And then, after spending the entire offseason shedding weight to prepare for his new role on the perimeter, Elston tore his meniscus just before the start of this season and has played a total of only 92 minutes.

“When I got the phone call from coach Crean telling me that I tore my meniscus, I was sitting on the couch at my apartment,” Elston said. “When I hung up the phone, a little bit of myself kind of teared up, but I realized after surgery I couldn’t just hold my head down and walk around and not say anything to the guys.

“Not only to tear your meniscus and have to sit out 6-8 weeks, but to not even know how you did it, it’s unbelievable. I was so ready for the season to get going, and that kind of happened.”

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  • spongebob

    The Sponge!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • spongebob

    The Sponge!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • IU Bob 1981

    “We were the butt of every joke”, but the joke is on all of them now.

  • Florida Hoosier Girl

    Thanks for writing this and letting us get a closer look at Derek! Hope he comes up big Tuesday night against Ohio State.

  • HoosierPete

    Fantastic story. Every successful team needs a player and a leader like Elston. And he’s playing important minutes now and when IU hangs banner No. 6, Elston will be a big reason why.

  • every Champ has an unexpected hero off the bench

  • Tim in DC

    Another great article. I have a good feeling that Elston is going to be a major reason for the wonderful Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments that Indiana is getting ready to win. This is our year.

  • jermhoosierfan

    It is great to see how that class withstood the storm of those first 2 years to see how they helped get IU back on track. I can see Derek being a prankster.

  • sghoosier

    Thanks Justin. We need to be reminded that the struggles that this generation of IU players had undergone is the journey of life in itself. You also personify them instead of us looking at them as images on TV or basketball players on the court. Cheers!

  • kevgood

    Elston has played like a man in the last two games. We really need that if we want to win a championship.

  • This class will forever be remembered by Indiana basketball fans. This class is something special filled with great guys both on and off the court. There are not many people who could deal with what they had to through the first two years, and I am glad they are finally being rewarded.

  • I want to share a story about Elston that my friend told me:

    My friends friend works at a bank here in Bloomington and not too long ago Derek came in. He was being helped by an older lady at the desk and she kept complimenting him on what a great game he had, and what a great man he is. She eventually said that she wished she could give him a hug. Derek then told here that if she came around from the counter he would meet her half way. She came around and Derek walked over to her and gave her a giant hug! Her day was made.

    This shows how great of a guy Derek is. Crean has done a great job with not only Elston, but the entire team. This is a great team, and I can’t wait to see what they can do in March.

  • marcusgresham

    He’s just started to show a few moves that indicate he’s all the way back (and confident) with his knee–that reverse lay-up in the picture is an example. If he just gets his shooting stroke back he’s going to be a real factor.

  • Great story! Let’s hope his confidence with that outside shot returns Tuesday! Derek is a true Hoosier!

  • Great story! Let’s hope his confidence with that outside shot returns Tuesday! Derek is a true Hoosier!

  • WisconHoosier

    “But no one left for Butler.”

    This is why this is my favorite recruiting class. They didn’t leave, when most others would have. They didn’t quit.

    If there had been a bunch of transfers, Crean would have lost credibility. No Zeller. No Yogi. The possibilities get scary from there, so I’ll just stop thinking about them.

    Great article. Great IU players. My respect to them, and their parents.

  • Miamihoosier

    This article is SI good, you know, national sports magazine piece good. It feels awesome that our team has far and away the best dedicated website in college basketball. I’ve checked, I mean nothing even comes close. Thanks, Alex, Justin, everybody involved….. As for Derek, I think most all of us have noticed something different in his play the last few games. The assertiveness with which he’s making his moves to the bucket, the lift he’s gotten on a couple of dunks, it’s the most athleticism I’ve seen him display his whole career. He could be a huge piece for us in the home stretch, because outside the Illinois game, the other 3 losses we got beat up on the inside….we needed one more big to give us quality minutes….if he’s that guy, our chances just got that much better to bring it all home….

  • Elston will always be the guy from Purdue country who chose IU. Now that style.

  • My sister works at one of the large tanning salons in Btown, and Derek is a pretty frequent customer. She has commented several times on how polite and friendly he is every time he comes in. He takes time to talk to her and ask her how things are going with class and whatnot. Seems like a genuinely good guy, and I’m glad to see him having success on the court again.

  • Smokey15

    Excellent work Justin

  • Scott Ferderber

    The ’09 class was the light at the end of the tunnel and will forever be a special group. Their light shines brightly today and deservedly so.

  • DElstonsD

    Watch the hand!

  • DElstonsD

    Watch the hand!

  • SCHoosier

    A great read..thanks Justin. I suspect DE and his fellow seniors are feeling damn well vindicated today with a share of the B-10 title. What was unthinkable as freshmen has become a reality for the group as seniors. Let’s really make it special beating by puttin’ a whippin’ on OSU Tuesday. Don’t lose the edge guys.

  • Benhyoung14

    I can’t think of a better role player over the last few years than elston. I had no idea that him and CTC were at odds at times, but I’m glad he stayed.

  • Bleeding Crimson

    Great point that I would like to add on not only do we have a great site that was created by one of the best , if not the best, but the posters are a far superior fan base due to their passion….but the knowledge of past and present is far greater as well. I have learned more from this site about IU basketball than any other source….so yes Thank You everyone involved.

  • marcusgresham

    Wait a second…I was always told Coach Crean is just a rah-rah guy who never gets on guys. Just claps his hands when things aren’t going well. You mean he actually YELLS at guys? Well, that just can’t be.

  • SCHoosier

    I think he’s got a stroke..guards aren’t really looking for him. DE has been clapping his hands asking for the ball..but its going elsewhere.

  • VanPastorMan

    I love it that Elston has kept at it and not quit. It will help him in life, because things don’t always work out the way we want. We’ve got to keep at it.

  • VanPastorMan

    I love it that Elston has kept at it and not quit. It will help him in life, because things don’t always work out the way we want. We’ve got to keep at it.