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Tom Crean isn't basking in preseason glory, and he sure as heck doesn't want his Indiana basketball players doing it.
“We've got a hungry group,” he says. “It's a very competitive group. And that's before our newcomers get here. When they do, it will change the energy level even more.”
Crean stays on got-to-keep-working message because he knows all these pre-preseason accolades – IU is No. 1; Cody Zeller is the nation's best center; freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell will be the Big Ten's best newcomer – won't mean squat when the Hoosiers face the Ohio States, the Wisconsins and the Michigan States of the college basketball world.
“The biggest thing for the team is make sure they stay locked into the daily process of how much better they're going to get,” Crean says. “What their improvement is like.
“For us as coaches, make sure we're adhering to the same things and getting us better and not getting caught in all that.”
Crean seemingly has the Hoosiers back where they want to be – fighting for national championships and generating headlines for the quality of their program and not the shadiness of their recruiting practices.
They got there through hard work, and that can't slip now that so much is possible. Crean focuses on that. Everything else – the IU-Kentucky debacle, helping former player Dwyane Wade regain his basketball mojo, off-the-chart expectations -- is irrelevant.
“There's a sign in my office that says, 'Just coach the team.' I have to look at that more right now. There are a lot of ways to get distracted and get pulled in different directions. It's not worth it.
“What's worth it is making sure we're getting our team better. Making sure we're recruiting at a high level. Making sure we're putting in a lot of time with unofficial visits. Making sure we're there for our players and they understand how important it is for them to improve. The rest of it falls in line with that.”
Consider Zeller, a 6-11 sophomore coming off an All-America season in which he led IU in scoring, rebounding and shooting. He more than lived up to the hype.
Zeller almost certainly would have been a lottery pick if he had entered the NBA Draft. Instead, he said he wasn't ready for his college experience to be over.
So he passed on millions of dollars for a chance to win a national championship. He very well could be the No. 1 pick in next year's draft if he gets stronger, gets better defensively and gives up his final two years of college eligibility. He runs the floor as well or better than any big man in the country, not because he has Usain Bolt speed, but because he hustles every play.
It might not be a bad idea to have Zeller take a three-point shot now and then. He made them in high school. He can make them now. It's a strange world when graduated forward Tom Pritchard, who never shot a three-pointer except in shot-clock-desperate situations, had more three-point attempts (one) than Zeller did last season.
Then there's Ferrell, who is the nation's No. 2 point guard and No. 19 player overall in the Class of 2012. Crean calls him “as good as any point guard in the country.”
If Ferrell plays to that standard, look out. The Hoosiers have lacked a true point guard recently, although Jordan Hulls, Verdell Jones, Victor Oladipo and Remy Abell all did what they could last season.
But Ferrell is a pass-first guy who can penetrate at will, create for others and hit the midrange jumper. With Zeller inside, Hulls outside, Christian Watford all over the court, and Oladipo and veteran Will Sheehey everywhere in between along with freshman Jeremy Hollowell, you have the foundation for an offensive powerhouse.
IU led the Big Ten in scoring, and there's no reason to believe it won't repeat this coming season. The biggest key is defense. Indiana wasn't nearly good enough in that area last season.
If that improves, preseason optimism can evolve into postseason success. Then Crean can get a new office sign that includes the word "champion."