Tom Crean is set to tip off his fifth season as the head basketball coach at Indiana University.
The Hoosiers are loaded, led by preseason National Player of the Year Cody Zeller. IU tips off the 2012-13 hosting Bryant University on Friday, Nov. 9. The Hoosiers made it to the NCAA tournament Sweet 16 last season, with wins over No. 1 Kentucky, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 5 Michigan State. Crean spent four seasons on Tom Izzo’s staff at Michigan State before getting his first head coaching job at Marquette. He also was an assistant under Ralph Willard at Western Kentucky and Pittsburgh.
Kent Taylor: Most of the preseason prognosticators have your team No. 1 in the country. Are you going to tell me that the expectations within the program are the same as always?
Tom Crean: No, the program is growing up. That’s different, the program, it’s a continual process. If you learn anything, you learn that it really is a process, and the truer you stay to it, the better you’re going to be. The bottom line is that you don’t want to back off the process.
When you’re building up and you’re getting deeper and they’re getting older, they’re becoming better leaders, yes, that changes. As far as where expectations tie into that, we’ve never tried to coach a game, even when we were first starting this out, where we coached based on what people thought was going to happen, based on what the line said, you never do.
We can be a little more versatile, we can do a few different things, we have a deeper team, we have a better team, better talent, but the bottom line is that they have to work every day to be better, and it comes down to what kind of consistency they’re going to have.
K.T.: How much more is Remy Abell ready to contribute as a sophomore?
T.C.: He got better in the spring, but he really got better when he went home. He got in the gym with Joe Rogers, and I know Joe, so I know he got him better. He came back here in great shape, and he’s had an excellent summer.
I view him, this team is not about a starting five, it’s about a starting eight, starting nine potentially. There is no question that he’s got to become one of those guys for us.
K.T.: How much do you expect from the talented freshmen class?
T.C.: I think because the talent around them is pretty good, it’s going to be easier for them. They’ll have to understand that there are roles to this. This team has really got to be caught up in believing in the quality of their play and not the quantity of their minutes.
K.T.: There are pictures of Christian Watford’s game-winning shot against Kentucky all over Cook Hall. How important was that shot, that game, in the process of rebuilding this program?
T.C.: I think about that and I’ve used the term monumental, and huge, and I think what it was, was program turning. For a program this powerful, that’s a big statement.
As a coach, we wanted to win by 20, we were up 10, mad because we didn’t put it on, and I thought we could have that day. We weren’t mature enough to win by that much, because we thought we were going to win the game by ourselves. At the end of the game, it came down to a very unselfish play by Verdell Jones to throw that ball back and for Christian to be in a perfect line, and that consistent jump shot that he put in. It was program changing, because everybody here needed that. We needed something.
K.T.: Most preseason polls have Indiana, Louisville and Kentucky all in the top five – does that just feel right?
T.C.: I think it’s great. Growing up, and I didn’t grow up in this region, but growing up, Tobacco Road is Tobacco Road, but they weren’t always. N.C. State wasn’t always where it needed to be and sometimes it was, but I didn’t grow up in that region, so I don’t have an appreciation for it.
You have an appreciation for when Indiana, Louisville and Kentucky are top five, because for a long time they were. Look at the National Championships that are in there. We’ve got five, Louisville has two, Kentucky has eight, you put that region together. Duke has four, North Carolina has five, N.C. State has two, we’re pretty strong now, I think it’s fantastic.
K.T.: Did you get a championship ring from Michigan State in 2000?
T.C.: I did, absolutely.
K.T.: Do you ever wear that?
T.C.: It doesn’t fit anymore, I guess I’ve lost weight, but I have it, absolutely. I pulled it out last week actually.
K.T.: Did you show it to your players?
T.C.: No, I haven’t done that, there will be a time and a place for that, but I haven’t done that. I don’t wear it in recruiting, I’m proud of it.
K.T.: When you are the head coach of a program at this level, it is all-encompassing. How does Tom Crean get away – is it time with the family?
T.C.: I think it’s that, it’s their events – I love my kids’ events. I don’t have a lot of outside hobbies. There’s no question, it’s the family. We took the longest vacation we’ve taken in years, this year, because we really hadn’t done that. There wasn’t any time off, but we went to Florida. We were dealing with recruiting issues and all those things, but it was time away. For Joani and me, I wish there were a few more date nights, but it’s home with them, it’s at their events, that stuff is fun.
K.T.: What did you tell Dwyane Wade when he visited you during the Eastern Conference semifinals series against the Pacers last year?
T.C.: It was really the time spent. We had a great day and he needed it. We had one rule when he got here – I said no internet, and no sports on your TVs. We had a great time from about 3:30 until I dropped him off about quarter to 12. It was great for the team, it was great for me, and it was good for him. It was a way to help him get his confidence back.