BLOOMINGTON –- Tom Crean has Fort Wayne on his mind. It happens a lot. The Indiana coach never wants to miss out on tapping into the area's strong basketball talent pool.
“Every chance to be in Fort Wayne,” he said, “I always want to take advantage of.”
Crean already has taken advantage with the commitment of Bishop Luers' guard James Blackmon for the Class of 2014. Blackmon is among the standouts who have come from the area, including Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas (an ex-Luers Indiana Mr. Basketball), Purdue's Raphael Davis (formerly of South Side), Northrop's Bryson Scott (committed to Purdue) and ex-Huntington North player Chris Kramer (a two-time Big Ten defensive player of the year at Purdue).
Tonight Crean is in town -– specifically at Autumn Ridge Golf Course -- to speak at the Celebrity Live Auction to benefit Special Olympics. Fort Wayne area financial consultant Gary Probst asked him to help out with the event put on by the Delagrange family in conjunction with New Mexico assistant basketball coach Craig Neal.
“It's something I've wanted to have an opportunity to do,” Crean said, “but the timing had never worked. Gary Probst, who I have a great deal of respect for, asked me to do it. I know how important it is to the Delagrange family. So many people like (former IU All-America and current New Mexico head coach) Steve Alford and Craig Neal have been involved with it for so long. It's great to have a chance to go up there.”
While NCAA rules prohibit Crean from talking about specific recruits, he did acknowledge the Fort Wayne area's recruiting importance.
“It's one of the hotbeds of the state,” he said. “There's a tremendous amount of talent and that's true for all the sports, football as well.
“Anytime you have a city with that much talent and that much good coaching, and it's widespread, you know you want to be an integral part of it. For us, it's fun to be around so many people who are Hoosier fans. I love it. If I can get up there a couple times of year to speak, it's great. I know I'll be up other times for recruiting.”
Recruiting has fueled Crean's turnaround at Indiana. After three straight 20-loss seasons, the Hoosiers emerged as a national power last season, winning 27 games and reaching the Sweet 16 before losing to eventual national champ Kentucky.
With most of those players back, including All-America forward Cody Zeller, plus a strong freshman class, optimism is high. Many publications list the Hoosiers as the preseason No. 1 team.
“We're excited that the season is coming,” Crean said, “but we're far more excited about the individual workouts we're going to do this afternoon. We're excited about what we'll do going into next week. That helps prepare you to take it to that point. You're always teaching your team to never jump ahead. As coaches you want to know you have maxed out what will make them better that day, then do it again the next day.”
Thanks to new NCAA rules, Crean and his staff were able to work with players, including the four incoming freshmen, over the summer. Previously they could not. Those workouts continue now that school has resumed.
“You want to maximize your days," Crean said.
“We saw that. That's why the new rules are so great. When you don't get to work with your team in the summer time, you're chomping at the bit for the fall to get here. We've had the summer, so it changes the process a little bit.
“Right now our biggest thing is to get our mindset to where it needs to be, and what kind of team we need to be. Our identity as a team will come from that, not the other way around.
“We're getting the guys to understand right now the principles of defense, the footwork, the technique, the fundamentals they need at both parts of the game. It's really getting that mindset of what kind of defensive team, what kind of defensive toughness we have to have. Even in groups of four, that's what our focus is.”