BLOOMINGTON — Indiana's Tom Crean isn't ready to bag this whole basketball coaching thing. It pays too well, for one thing. He loves it too much, for another.
And, hey, love is a little easier when you're coming off a victory - thank heaven for Northwestern State - heading into Tuesday night's Big Ten-ACC Challenge game against Maryland.
But Crean understands that the coaching dictatorships of yore don't always work anymore. This is an era of cooperation and communication, and the coach who gets his players to do some of the work is ahead of the game.
In simple terms, players have to coach themselves. They have to lead and push and drive each other about effort and accountability and doing things the right way. To understand the concept, Crean says, means taking Michigan State coach Tom Izzo's words to heart.
“Tom Izzo says it best, ‘A player-coached team is always a lot better than a coach-coached team.' ”
What does that mean?
“The more players can put the hammer down on somebody else, the better,” Crean says. “The coaches are the leaders. They have to set the agenda. But if it's just the coaches, you can't win that way.
“It's not like player-coached means the coach just sits there and clips his fingernails and thinks about dinner. I don't mean that at all. It's an ownership thing so you're working on it daily. They have to feel some peer pressure.”
The Hoosiers (3-3) took some pressure off by beating Northwestern State 90-72 and giving themselves a much-needed reward for all their hard work. Yes, that work has been harder than you'd like in an ideal world, but nothing is ideal these days for Indiana basketball.
Crean continues to force feed the Hoosiers because he has no choice. There are wins to get, a tradition to uphold, standards to meet.
These next three games would be challenging for No. 1 Kansas, let alone an IU team about as far removed from a No. 1 ranking as you can get. Maryland is the weak link (it has lost its last two games, to Cincinnati and Wisconsin), but is still 4-2 and was ranked No. 23 last week. Pitt is 5-1. Kentucky is 6-0 and ranked fifth.
Yes, the calendar suggests this is Year 2 of Crean's rebuilding project, but in truth, it's Year 1. Last season was about survival and just fielding a team in the aftermath of the Kelvin Sampson disaster that gutted the program. This is the season Crean can really start implementing his system, and it starts with practice competition for playing time.
“I love being in a really competitive environment,” he said. “It's great for us. It's great for the foundation of this program. We lost a whole year of that - a whole year of fighting for minutes, fighting to get on the court. Last year was a wash in the sense of what it means to really earn your minutes. To understand you have to fight every day, come back day after day, and if you don't bring it right, you're not going to play.”
These Hoosiers want to play, want to bring it right, but youth and inexperience sometimes get in the way. On Tuesday night, against a big-name opponent in front of a big-time TV audience and, if Crean has his way, a packed Assembly Hall, they'll get a chance to prove it.