Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

November 25, 2012

Home-grown hoops heroes

Kokomo — THE ISSUE: Resurgence of the Indiana University men’s basketball program.

OUR VIEW: Coach Tom Crean has Indiana on the right path, and he did it by doing things the right way.

At his introduction as the new Indiana University men’s basketball coach four years ago, Tom Crean said all the right things. Asked why he left Marquette after nine years, he said, “It’s Indiana.” He even divulged how the Hoosiers’ undefeated 1976 team affected him as a kid in Michigan.

“I’ll never forget the 1976 championship game,” he said. “I was 10 years of age ... Those were defining moments in a little boy’s life. I loved watching Indiana. I loved that.”

So did we.

What convinced us IU had tapped the right guy for the job was Crean’s promise to focus on recruiting Indiana high school players. Hoosiers have a passion for this game. We learn it at a young age, and we like to watch Indiana’s best play in – or for – Indiana.

It’s not a coincidence that many on that ’76 squad were Hoosiers: Kent Benson (New Castle), Wayne Radford (Indianapolis Arlington), Rich Valavicius (Hammond), Bobby Wilkerson (Madison Heights).

Eventual national champion Kentucky bounced Indiana from last year’s NCAA tournament, 102-90. Outside of Crean and his players, it’s likely few fans were disappointed with the result.

Indiana was the first team to shoot better than 50 percent against the Wildcats in 69 games. IU defeated Kentucky earlier in the season. The Hoosiers won 27 games in 2011-12, one shy of their total number of victories over the previous three years.

And they did it with some home-grown talent: Derek Elston (Tipton), Jordan Hulls (Bloomington South), Cody Zeller (Washington).

Just before Indiana hired Crean, the men’s basketball team had earned 19 Fs in their college classes, the Associated Press reported. Crean kept just two walk-ons from that group, and they’d combined for just 30 points the previous season.

This fall, Indiana welcomed more Indiana recruits: Yogi Ferrell (Indianapolis Park Tudor), Jeremy Hollowell (Lawrence Central) and Hanner Perea (La Lumiere of LaPorte). And no one should be surprised the Hoosiers are ranked No. 1 in the country.

Crean has Indiana on the right path, and he did it by doing things the right way.