BLOOMINGTON — The veil is lifted, the mystery revealed. Suddenly, Indiana University basketball practice is as open as, well, David Letterman’s personal life, and if it lacks the dramatic impact of, say, discovering King Tut’s tomb or entering Al Capone’s secret vault, that doesn’t mean it lacks insight.
First, it’s not actually a practice. That doesn’t officially start until Friday’s Hoosier Hysteria. This is a 45-minute workout, part of the two hours a week coaches are allowed to work with players in the fall, and energy fills Assembly Hall’s Branch McCracken Court with hand-clapping motivation.
Second, coach Tom Crean normally treats workouts as if he’s developing the secret formula to reverse male pattern baldness. Media observers are as welcome as a swine flu outbreak.
But that’s changed, at least for now, and enlightenment is everywhere.
Crean’s perpetual motion coaching has no tolerance for casual effort or lapsing concentration. He’s a human exclamation point pushing the pace because these Hoosiers, unlike last year, will follow Michigan State’s run-till-you-break approach, which is what you’d expect from a former Tom Izzo assistant.
“We want to get our running game mentality established,” Crean says.
That running game depends on speed and resolve. IU coaches have recruited the former. They’re developing the latter.
“Get it out quick,” Crean shouts at the start of a fast-break drill. “Get the pass up!”
In Crean’s world, it’s not a sprint, it’s a “dead sprint!” You don’t drive the basket, you “Attack and go!” There’s a full-court drill called the “Orange missile,” which basically requires players to sprint from one baseline to the other, as many as five straight in 26 seconds. He’s a hands-on coach who demands a “commitment to running” and solid fundamentals.
“Your feet are always square,” he tells his players. He gets into a stance to show and tell because it’s the best way to reinforce teaching, and when you once again have one of the nation’s most inexperienced teams, reinforcement is crucial.
The Hoosiers often struggled to break 60 points during last year’s 6-25 learning lesson. That’s not likely to happen this year. Guard Verdell Jones talks about averaging in the low 80s as part of IU’s full-throttle approach, the perfect system for this full-throttle coach.
Crean paces during drills. He paces during water breaks. He probably paces during meals. He sees everything, misses nothing, speaks nonstop. When freshman forward Derek Elston doesn’t run the entire court in a full-court drill, Crean verbally pounces.
“Come on, Derek. There’s no excuse for that!”
When senior guard Devan Dumes buries a three-pointer and drives for a layup, when sophomore forward Tom Pritchard caps an inside play with a basket and senior forward Steven Gambles makes a hustle play, Crean is quick with praise and a pat on the back.
“That’s a way. Nice job.”
Carrot and stick are part of the deal, and senior center Tijan Jobe gets the stick after forgetting what he’s supposed to do on a drill right after Crean had demonstrated it.
“Where do you go, Tijan? Where do you go! Come on, man!”
The 7-foot, 255-pound Jobe, by the way, has become more of a threat to teammates than opponents. Guard Jeremiah Rivers is hobbled from a bruised thigh courtesy of a collision with Jobe. Guard Daniel Moore was knocked out by a Jobe elbow in preparation for last year’s game against Minnesota.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do with him,” Crean says. “We have to put him in some of the drills. He has the ability to hurt his teammates. I know he doesn’t mean to, but goodness gracious.”
Freshman forward Bobby Capobianco gets a taste of Crean’s intensity after taking too long to set a screen.
“That’s slow Bobby. It’s too slow! You’re jogging out there. Sprint!”
Crean takes ownership of that 6-25 record, but he has no intention of repeating it — ever. He’s here for the long haul, steeled to overcome the academic turmoil and program decimation from Kelvin Sampson’s ill-fated two-year coaching reign. Coaching demands are matched by coaching passion. Returning players have improved. Newcomers have upgraded the talent. Rivers, a Georgetown transfer who has won on every team he’s ever been on, says the talent difference is dramatic. These Hoosiers have the speed and athleticism and growing strength to compete with the Big Ten’s best.
That’s the goal, and if it doesn’t happen this year, Crean insists it will in future ones. He talks about wanting a “teamwide gym-rat mentality” where players are in the gym on their own working on their games at all hours of the day and night because that’s how championships are won.
“You have to have that if you are going to win, and I mean REALLY win,” he says. “That’s what we’ve got to continue to work towards and recruit towards, and may the best man win.”
That, you see, is no mystery. It’s fact.