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COLUMN

IU's Crean balances patience, demands

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For more on college sports, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at www.twitter.com/pdiprimio

Massachusetts forward commits to Hoosiers

Monday, October 28, 2013 - 9:11 pm

BLOOMINGTON -- Indiana's basketball freshmen can't play like freshmen. This much we know. If the Hoosiers are to sustain their Big Ten contending play, youth must play to talent, following the lead of veterans Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey.

The good Cream and Crimson news: The talent is there. But so are the mistakes.

All this was evident in Saturday's exhibition win over the University of Southern Indiana. That almost certainly will continue with the Nov. 4 exhibition game against Hillsdale College, the Nov. 8 season opener against Chicago State and beyond.

The hope is by Big Ten play, or, perhaps more realistically, by February, the young guys will have it figured out.

For coach Tom Crean, it's a balancing act. He has to let freshmen such as Noah Vonleh and Troy Williams play through their mistakes while making sure they keep them to a minimum.

So, is he patient or demanding?

Both, as it turns out.

“The demands have to come on the details, the fundamentals,” he says. “You're always trying to build on everything while eliminating some of the bad things. It all goes in different stages.”

In Saturday's first stage, IU had 13 assists and 17 turnovers. Last year, IU averaged 14.3 assists against 13.0 turnovers. The Hoosiers shot 41.8 percent from the field. Last year it was 48.2 percent.

Of course, last year IU had three seniors — Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford and Derrek Elston — who have gone on to play professionally overseas and two veterans — Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller — who were picked in the top four in the NBA draft.

Now the Hoosiers have six freshmen and seven newcomers with senior transfer Evan Gordon in the mix. Figure all will play, some a lot. Glitches are coming. So is growth.

“The bottom line every day for us: Do you come in mentally prepared? Do you come in with great energy? Do you come in ready to not only work hard, but compete to win?" Crean says. “We have had some days where we didn't come in with that mental preparation, and all of a sudden, I threw in the competition and guys weren't ready for it.”

That won't work with Crean, or any elite coach. He wants a team that fights, battles and pushes to the limit, and, perhaps, just a little bit more.

Cream pushes that message to his players, and to the recruits he hopes will be his players. Indianapolis North Central sophomore guard Eron Gordon was at Saturday's exhibition game, as was Massachusetts senior forward Max Hoetzel and Illinois junior guard Aaron Jordan.

Senior guard James Blackmon, the former Bishop Luers standout now at Marion High School, visited Friday night and Saturday morning, but wasn't at the exhibition.

Hoetzel liked what he heard and saw. The 6-7 forward committed Sunday night. He's a strong shooter who reminds Crean of Steve Novak, who Crean coached at Marquette. He'll join Virginia guard Robert Johnson, ranked No. 42 nationally, in the Class of 2014.

IU also could get a commitment this week from Virginia forward Devin Robinson, a five-star prospect. He's set to announce Wednesday.

As far as this team goes, Crean seeks consistency. In a world that glorifies home runs, he's fine with singles. The challenge -- getting the freshmen to buy in.

“We've come in and they thought they were ready for practice. Then we'd get to a certain part, and the energy drops and the competition drops. When you have a veteran team, they have a greater understanding. This team doesn't have that. They have to work that.

“There's no way you're patient with fundamentals. You're not patient with bad shots or lack of communication. You have to be patient with the understanding part. You have to be patient with those guys going through things.”

Take Williams, for example: Even with an injured right hand, he made major impact with 10 points and 10 rebounds. He had three blocks. He fearlessly attacked the rim and passing lanes looking for the spectacular, which sometimes left his man open.

Crean will cut him some slack for that — for a while.

“If Troy was a sophomore, or if it's two months from now and he's going for steals and his man is knocking down shots, it's another story,” Crean says. “He's got to work through it.”

And Williams does work.

“He's got such a firecracker in his body,” Crean says. “He's on the explosion all the time. I've told him, I don't want him to be Victor (Oladipo) as a freshman. I want him to be Victor as a sophomore.

“When you have a guy like that, you let him run. He wants to be coached. He's smart and picks things up fast. He has tremendous instincts. He can pass. He just has to play through it.”

Figure that theme plays all season.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.