There are high expectations in Bloomington for the Indiana basketball team this season. The Hoosiers are coming off a season where they finished with 27 wins, notched a signature win against Kentucky and finished in the Top 15 of the USA Today/Coaches Poll. This year they head into the season with the bulls-eye on their back and one of the best players in all of college basketball on their side in Cody Zeller. It was a rough first three years for Crean in Bloomington as such a historic program turned into the doormat of the Big Ten but last year the Hoosiers took huge steps forward and they look like once again they will be one of the top teams in the Big Ten. Tom Crean joined 1070 the Fan in Indianapolis with Dan Dakich to talk about the excitement in Bloomington, if he tries to avoid talking to his team about where they are ranked heading into the season and whether he thinks a guy like Christian Watford should get more national recognition.
On the excitement around Bloomington:
“We’re excited. I’m excited to be back here on the court. I just think going through it daily with these guys has been great and I know I said it before but it really kicked in a year ago in the spring and things really started to change and instead of it just being how hard will he work, it just became about everybody. I think that’s really what has transpired. There is not anybody that’s not working, that’s not improving, that doesn’t have a desire to get better. I think as you start the season, if you have that kind of mindset going in and it’s been all the hard days and the grind days before you even get to practice, I think it makes it that much more exciting because you know they’re going to want to get better throughout the season.”
If he tries to avoid talking to his team about the rankings and things like that:
“I think it’s both. I think it would be crazy to think that they don’t see it. Everybody reads, everybody gets Twitter, everybody follows ESPN and the dot coms so those things are not a secret. I think it’s all how you handle it. I would say this, there has not been one time and it’s really been six and a half months since we played Kentucky where we have looked out and there has been a guy or a couple of guys and it’s like what are they doing? Why are they not working as hard? What’s wrong with their attitude? There hasn’t been any of that and I think we do talk about that in a sense of how fleeting it is. Last year they responded to the expectations but they weren’t driven by it. They were driven by their desire to get better, they were driven by how hard they worked in the summer and I think it’s the same thing now. There’s a response that comes from that but I don’t think it’s what the drive is centered on. I think these kids are driven kids and I think that is what is most important. If I thought they were just wound up and all excited because there’s rankings, well we would’ve probably saw a year ago, they were all depressed and nonchalant because there weren’t any. I don’t see any of that with this group.”
On Christian Watford being underrated:
“Probably. That he was talked so little about in the past, it’s like, this stuff is so crazy and not to name drop a dotcom but CBS Sports dot com comes out with their top 100 list. Cody Zeller is number one. They list 12 or 13 freshmen a year ago and he’s not anywhere, he’s not in the top 100. How do you go from not being in the top 100 to being number one? You can’t put a lot of value on those things and I think in Christian’s case, my biggest concern is he has not had a start to finish healthy summer and he was dealing with some issues from the season that he had to get taken care of in his foot and he did but there were a couple of setbacks at different times. He has not had a smooth offseason. he has done a great job with it, he has changed his body even more, he’s not back where I would say ‘wow he is really ready to go.’ That’s going to take a little time with him.
He looks good but he missed a lot of time with these guys in the pickup games and the workouts and things like that. All you have to look at is his improvement. He went from shooting 32 percent from three as a sophomore to 44 percent as a junior and was hovering in the high 40′s at times. If you look at his last month and a half he was excellent and it would be hard to argue with how he finished the season with anybody. The biggest change is one year ago he couldnt keep Trevor Mbakwe in front of him on the road and this year he is guarding Lewis Jackson and Keith Appling and they couldn’t get around him. When I see that, that’s the stuff that we talk with the NBA people about. Somebody that’s watching this from a distance is not going to see but when you see everyday and when you have an educated eye towards it you see this kid is really getting better.”