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Calbert Cheaney turned 41 this week, another example of how time waits for no one, not even the smoothest scorer in Indiana University basketball history.
Age hasn't taken away Cheaney's smile, always a winner. Age hasn't affected his personality – down-to-earth, friendly and approachable. Age hasn't taken away his desire to make IU's basketball program the best it can be.
“It's a great time to be on board, but the great thing about our fan base is they were on board when times were bad,” Cheaney said Thursday before the local IU alumni golf outing at Autumn Ridge Golf Course.
“I was on board when times were bad. All the former players were on board when times were bad. That shows what type of people we've had coming through the program over the years.”
There was no better representative, then or now, for IU basketball than Cheaney. He was an offensive force – setting the Big Ten career scoring record – but not a ball hog. He could score from long range, he could drive. While he wasn't exceptionally quick, he could read the opening. He embraced coach Bob Knight's motion offense and thrived.
Time has moved on since those days in the early 1990s. Cheaney compiled a solid, if relatively quiet NBA career. He took three years off to find his bearings and play a lot of golf.
Now he's working as director of basketball operations under IU coach Tom Crean.
Crean made it a point to connect with the past and now, some 20 years after Cheaney's team rose to the top of the rankings, IU is back.
Cheaney's influence is a perfect blend of past and present.
“You think about the IU basketball program, you never think it could get to that point (NCAA violations and a losing record before Crean took over),” Cheaney said. “But, again, you have to deal with it, and that's the great thing about our program.
“We have great fans and great support from former players and when Coach Crean got here, he embraced all of that.”
Now the Hoosiers are fairly loaded, starting with everyone's All-American Cody Zeller and continuing on the five incoming freshmen, including Yogi Ferrell, who should play major roles immediately.
Cheaney was the team's leading scorer as a freshman. He knows what it's like to have demands and responsibility right away. While he's technically not a coach, he has a voice.
He knows the pressure of being ranked No.1 or close to it. He knows the pressure of fans expecting great things. He knows what it takes to remain calm in a storm.
“(I tell them) not to worry about the rankings and do what we do,” Cheaney said. “Stay the course, keep working hard and results will come. Keep improving and getting better as a player and a person and we'll be just fine.”
That said, Cheaney is as excited about the upcoming season as anyone one.
He knows a quality team when he sees one. The teams he played on in 1992 and 1993 were the best of the latter part of Knight's tenure. They had great college players, such as Cheaney, Alan Henderson and Damon Bailey, but they knew how to mesh as a team.
He sees that in the 2012-13 team, too.
“We have a good hard-working crew and five new freshmen coming in there working hard,” Cheaney said. “We're going to be pretty good, it's just a matter of us staying the course. Coach always talks about having that standard of excellence. They're working hard and they're really, really hungry.”
Cheaney said the players went back to work almost immediately after the Sweet 16 loss to Kentucky. He expects this team to be one of the deepest in the country. The freshmen, he said, have improved the team's athleticism, speed and quickness.
“The key thing for us could be the depth part of it,” he said. “We'll have guys coming off the bench who could be starters.”
Zeller, like Cheaney back in his day, will garner ample attention from defenses, fans and media.
“What do they call him, the Big Handsome?” Cheaney said. “I call him the Big Simple. He just keeps everything simple. You tell him to do something, he does it. He's a joy to coach and talk to. He just goes about his business.”
There have been a few players like that at Indiana. One named Cheaney comes to mind.