BLOOMINGTON -– What's the secret to Tom Crean's Indiana basketball success?
Let Calbert Cheaney fill you in.
Cheaney is starting his second season as the Hoosiers director of basketball operations. Twenty years earlier, he was an All-American who led IU to one Final Four and a pair of Big Ten titles while becoming the conference's career scoring leader.
He played for Bob Knight and Jerry Sloan, two of basketball's winningest -– and most intense – coaches: Knight in college, Sloan in the NBA.
He's seen Crean turn the Hoosiers back into a national power after three years of NCAA sanction-caused struggles.
The secret, as it turns out, isn't much of a secret at all.
“It's because of his tireless work ethic,” Cheaney said. “He works non-stop. He's like the Energizer Bunny. He's looking for ways to get better all the time.
“Coach Crean and his staff started at the bottom of the barrel as far as the program was concerned. They've done a wonderful job these last four years of getting this thing back on track. A lot of hard work and perseverance has gone into it.”
Another former IU standout, D.J. White, agrees. He was a senior when everything imploded -- coach Kelvin Sampson left over phone call violations; director of basketball operations Dan Dakich briefly took over; Crean was hired; and NCAA sanctions hit hard. Now the Hoosiers are expected to contend for Big Ten and national titles. They haven't won a conference championship since 2002, and that was shared with Illinois, Wisconsin and Ohio State. They haven't won a national title since 1987.
“I'm happy about where the program is at,” White said. “When I left a lot of different things happened, but Coach Crean and his staff did a good job of recruiting. (Senior forward) Christian (Watford) and those guys were put in a tough situation, but they stuck it out. Look at them now. They made it to the Sweet 16. They're preseason No. 1. Hopefully they can build on that success.”
Long-term building was part of the reason for this past weekend's Tom Crean ProCamp, which Cheaney and White worked along with Crean, his staff and his players. The camp was for young players ages kindergarten through high school seniors.
Cheaney had the opportunity to become an IU assistant coach last spring when Bennie Seltzer left to become the head coach at Samford. Cheaney declined and the job went to Kenny Anderson, a former Towson assistant and long-time AAU coach.
“It just wasn't the right time,” Cheaney said. “I decided to continue where I am right now. It's a great job. I've learned a lot from Coach Crean and his staff and the administration. I enjoy what I'm doing.”
What he really enjoys is once again being part of the Indiana atmosphere.
“To see those 17,000 fans every night, no matter if we're playing well or not playing well, to come out and support the program … that's IU basketball.”
As for Crean, his non-stop pace continued with Sunday night's talk in Fort Wayne at the Celebrity Live Auction to support Special Olympics. That followed two days of ProCamp activities.
The summer is a busy time for camps and recruiting, and often times they are one and the same. Crean does lots of camps, and just like everything he does, it comes with his signature intensity and perspective.
“(Campers) leave with a couple of things,” he said. “It's not just the autographs and the pictures, although those are important, too. It's the experiences they can go back to, like it's really important that I work on my left hand or it's really important that I'm a great teammate or it's important that I give great eye contact or that it's important that I listen and follow direction.
“As we tell our team all the time, one of the hardest things you can do is get better. You've got to work at it constantly. When you have a couple more tools you can go to, even at this young age, I think it's great.
“The biggest thing is to have an energy and a passion for the game of basketball. They get to be Hoosiers for a couple of days. They get to be around our staff and players for a couple of days, but most importantly, they get to be around basketball at a pretty high level.”
Crean gets one more crack on the lecture circuit this week when he talks to students and the general public on Thursday night at the IU Auditorium.