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Column: Crean winning the Indiana Way


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By Avi Zaleon



PORTLAND, Ore. -- With the clock showing straight zeros and his team victorious, IU Coach Tom Crean walked out onto the court at Rose-Garden Arena.

He looked into a section of red, the bright lights reflecting off his glasses, and was able to look back – albeit briefly.

“I think when I look up at the crowd and catch a glimpse of my family, our families, I've got some good friends here, Tony La Russa and Dick Strong, I catch a glimpse of them and I think then it hits you just for a brief moment that this is really, really special,” Crean said. “It really is. We've been through so much to get to this point that it's hard to spend a lot of time reflecting on it.”

Read the headlines.

Syracuse forward Fab Melo is ineligible for the NCAA Tournament because of poor academics.

As first-year Missouri Coach Frank Haith leads his second-seeded Tigers deeper into March, three of his former student-athletes at Miami have served suspensions for being caught in the web left by booster Nevin Shapiro.

A recent Sports Illustrated article collected testimonies from former UCLA players and staff members that suggest coach Ben Howland has created an atmosphere void of discipline leading to drug and alcohol use.

Kentucky Coach John Calipari’s Wildcats are the favorites to win it all this year with a trio of freshman unlikely to stay in school and earn a college degree.

There’s winning, and then there’s winning the right way – the Indiana way.

IU’s 79-66 victory over New Mexico State Thursday was a solidifying reminder for me that Crean, whose contract still has six years left on it, is the man to heal Indiana basketball.

Healing is what this program needed.

I’m not sure IU basketball will ever be “back.” “Back” to me implies dominance that only the second-winningest coach in NCAA Division I history could bring. Those years of success, while maintaining morality, are gone from college basketball and I don’t think they will ever return for any program.

No, the Hoosiers didn’t need to be “back,” they needed to be healed.

The school, fan base and team needed somebody to take a chance on an ill program decayed by uncharacteristic cheating. Doing things the Indiana way came first and the winning could wait.

“We've all learned a great deal,” Crean said. “Everybody is better.  It didn't seem like it at the time, but everybody is better for what we had to endure.”

Crean has run a clean program in which his student-athletes are graduating and staying out of trouble.

These priorities are laid out first and foremost in his contract.

Right there, in Article II, Section A, entitled “General Duties and Responsibilities.”
Item No.1, “Loyalty and Best Efforts”: The Employee shall act with honesty and sportsmanship at all times. The Employee recognizes that his actions are a direct reflection on the University, its athletic program and other individuals associated with the University, and he shall represent the University with honor and dignity…”

Immediately after follows a hefty second item entitled, “Rules Compliance.”

There is no mention of banners, All-Americans or five-star recruits.

Yes, IU’s wins this season are big, but the lasting foundation Crean has built might be even more paramount. The fourth-year head coach has implemented a system and a culture that brings in and develops young men –something that will be much more valuable in life than a jump shot.

“I look at Verdell Jones and I look at the selflessness of him,” Crean said. “Looking at all he's done as a player and all the points he scored to be like a coach for me tonight, for us tonight, and to be talking to Remy and Jordan and to be emphatic with things that he sees.  I can reflect on that.”

I fear the allegations will continue to mar the pristine reputations of blueblood basketball programs in the coming years.

And for that, it was sort of a blessing in disguise for IU to receive such a violent wake-up call four years ago.

The X-ray that revealed a cancer within the IU basketball program allowed the University to extract it before things got worse. Now, the Hoosiers have gone through the recovery period and appear to be healed.

We’ll measure him by his success in the record books, but what Crean has done for this program extends far beyond the final score.

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