IU closed its 2009-2010 campaign on Thursday.
It was a year in which IU improved by four games and completed its second season under coach Tom Crean with a 10-21 record.
There were highs and there were lows. But with each game, inch by inch, the team made progress.
Freshman forward Derek Elston spoke about the players beginning the year as individuals but subsequently coming together as a team.
Fellow freshman forward Christian Watford added that both individuals and IU as a whole improved during the course of the year.
Following the 73-58 loss to Northwestern on Thursday, Crean spoke like the Hoosiers have another game on the horizon.
“We’ve just got to continue to build our will on both ends of the court,” Crean said.
There won’t be another contest for IU until November.
But as one season comes to a close, another begins.
Both Watford and sophomore guard Verdell Jones talked about adding weight, as well as focusing on other individual aspects of their respective games.
Crean, meanwhile, will continue to provide instruction and eventually hire a replacement for recently dismissed assistant Roshown McLeod. But he will also hit the recruiting trail hard.
“We’re not anywhere close to being done recruiting, and that will pick up again tomorrow in a big way,” Crean said of Friday’s potential trips to scout high school talent.
Just like player development, recruiting is a process that spans the length of the calendar year.
Certainly the other big-name coaches will also be hot on the trail throughout the rest of March and certainly into April and the late signing period.
But Thursday’s end to the season marks a vital opportunity for Crean and his staff to log a number of miles, covering the entire Hoosier state, while also venturing out to a number of areas beyond state boundaries.
He’ll probably be up east, down in Florida and in a plethora of other gyms throughout the country, continuing to try to outwork many of his peers in order to help get the IU program back on its feet.
“There’s a lot of good young players that we’re recruiting that we want, and we’ve got to make sure that we get those,” he said.
Crean stressed making sure his current players continue to get “stronger, bigger, better, more athletic.” He also spoke of the benefits of bringing injured guards Matt Roth and Maurice Creek back into the equation.
But Crean also knows that nothing will come easy for him and his staff, even 23 months on the job.
The second, going on third-year IU coach needed to field a team before he could actually rebuild the Hoosier program, he said.
That was two years ago, and this past year Crean was able to capitalize on and sign guys with whom he had already built relationships while at Marquette — players such as Watford and Creek.
But still needing to round out the 2010 class, while continuing to seek out the younger talent, has become a balancing act, Crean said.
He has to address the short-term and also make sure the program doesn’t take any steps backward when his current players eventually graduate.
A Tom Crean team can never have too many good guards, but the coach didn’t need to be probed for him to recognize the need for a big man.
“We also need somebody that’s better at getting in the lane,” Crean said. “We need somebody that can get in the lane and create havoc; that can get into that paint and make decisions to get the ball to shooters.”
Although the current Hoosiers are continuing to improve, the period between years two and three provides an opportunity for the players to make more serious strides.
It’s also a chance — but really a necessity — for Crean to address future needs.
The 2010 class has its share of talent, but 2011 and 2012 will be more critical with players leaving and even more talented high school stars emerging.
With two almost default years of rebuilding in the books, one can more fairly assess the progress being made by Crean and the Hoosiers next season.
Therefore, this offseason serves as a critical time for the Hoosiers to build for the future.
Say hello to the 2010-2011 campaign, because it has already begun.