COLUMN: Crean's future lies with his players


Head coach Tom Crean and sophomore Collin Hartman leave the stage after IU's post game press conference following the 81-76 loss to Wichita State on Friday at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb. Ben Mikesell and Ben Mikesell

OMAHA, Neb. — When a season comes to an end, the first thought in many fans’ minds moves to next season. At least when Wichita State delivered an 81-76 loss to the IU men’s basketball team, that was my first thought: “What about next year?”

On paper, IU should be nothing but improved. I’m sure every coach wishes they were able to experience a senior night where the only ones honored were the managers. IU Coach Tom Crean had that privilege.

In recent years, the popular thing to do seems to be transfer away from IU or leave early for the NBA Draft. That can’t happen this offseason, at least not with the core of the team, if the Hoosiers hope to be competitive again.

The only players who might leave for the draft this year are sophomore forward Troy Williams, junior guard Yogi Ferrell and freshman guard James Blackmon Jr.

A lot of people have been calling for Crean’s firing all season, and some even longer than that. But if Crean can manage to keep those three in Bloomington for one more season, give him that season.

Williams is the one fans should most worry about. He has the highest ceiling of anyone on the team and could get tempted to leave and develop in the NBA D-League rather than college — like Noah Vonleh.

Blackmon could also flirt with life as a professional this offseason. There has been talk of him being a one-and-done since his high school days, and NBA teams definitely know how talented he is.

Those two are a different case than Ferrell. Williams and Blackmon are still improving, and rapidly. Looking at Williams from last year to this year, he’s a completely different player. And Blackmon still has plenty of room to grow as a defender.

Ferrell, on the other hand, might have reached his peak — or is nearing it. He’s one of the fastest, most dynamic guards in college basketball. The only limit to his game is his height. At 6-foot-nothing, NBA teams would be hesitant to sign him, regardless of his abilities.

All three were asked their intentions in the locker room following the game. Predictably and understandably, none of them gave too much away.

Williams and Blackmon found shelter behind the fact that they just finished a game and hadn’t thought about it.

Ferrell also avoided an answer.

“I don’t have a timeline,” Ferrell said. “I’m not even thinking about that right now. I’m just thinking about my team right now.”

If Crean and all three players do end up returning, this team could be dangerous. I expect Ferrell, Williams and Blackmon to compete for All-Big Ten teams, and several other players should be solid as well.

The only missing piece would be a familiar one. IU will still be without a big man.

Yes, freshman Emmitt Holt, sophomore Collin Hartman and junior Hanner Mosquera-Perea will improve, but the first two are still undersized. The Hoosiers will want to bring in some more height if they want to compete for a Big Ten title.

After all, they just allowed 44 points in the paint to a team that didn’t play anyone taller than 6-foot-7.

Ferrell said that will be one focus of the offseason, which technically hints that he plans to return. He said a big guy is badly needed.

Crean has been on the hot seat for a while now, but I say give him all four years of Ferrell.

Any time you change coaches, players leave and the rebuilding process begins. If Crean is fired, that means Ferrell’s final year of eligibility will be thrown away and the season with it. These guys came here to play for Crean.

Give Crean one more chance to prove what this group can do, if he can keep them at IU.

Sophomore guard Stanford Robinson summed up the team’s feelings perfectly.

“I think they might come back,” Robinson said. “If they don’t, they don’t. I would hope that they would come back.”

And that’s all Hoosier fans can do, too.

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