At Thursday's Big Ten Basketball Media Day, Tom Crean sat down at a roundtable with various members of the media for close to an hour. This is the first installment of some of the high points that Crean touched upon about Indiana basketball moving forward this year. There are eight questions and answers in this first installment.
1. Do you look at this as a transition year, a rebuilding year, how would you characterize it?
CREAN: "I haven't looked at it that way. What we're trying to do is to get them to understand what standards look like and they don't have any of their own. They don't have any of their own in the sense of ‘Well this is how I have to play to be successful.' So you have to be able to go back and look at what other standards look like. The standards that you're trying to hold your team to, the standards of the past couple of years, and then I think it becomes how quick can they absorb how hard these games are? How quick can they deal with being up and building on it and continue to keep their foot on the gas pedal so to speak? Or do they get down and depressed and disappointed when they are down in a game?
"So much of that is what's going to determine it because they are young, there's no way around that. Most of them have no idea of what it takes to be in the games, let alone win the games at this level. So we're going to be transitioning for a while, I don't think there's a question about that. But I think there's a lot of talent that has a lot of natural upside to it. And they can have success while they're growing and learning because eventually they're going to be very, very good. But can we do that while we're growing and learning in a league that has some older guys and some pretty adjusted teams? That's the question.''
2. Were there enough guys coming back this year for you to be able to maintain the culture you guys had worked so hard to build over the past few years?
CREAN: "The work ethic culture, but I really think the other part of that was really noticeable when Will and Yogi were gone in the summer. They were basically gone a month. But the work ethic with Noah Vonleh was there right from the beginning. The sophomores it was there. A couple of the younger freshmen, no, they had to learn that whatever they thought was hard work in the sense of six hours of credits and the study halls and the tutors and the weight lifting and the two hours a week we got for basketball that's not close to enough. There's no question that we didn't have it completely up to speed early on. That's where missing the veterans and missing Will and Yogi affected us. But we're starting to get it back.
"So the work ethic culture is strong. There are very, very few guys that aren't in there on off days. And that's a good thing. That means that they love it. There's a passion for it. But the rest of it: understanding how to win, understanding how hard you have to practice, we're still learning how to stay sharp mentally inside the length of the practices. Not getting in our mind ‘Well you know what, it's almost over, let me check out' and I think a couple of them … I think Will has been really good at picking that up and now I think the next thing for Will is can he address that? It's all part of it. Everything is a development for them right now but the work ethic is in there.''
3. There was a period of time there where it seemed you had more guys in the training room than on the court but are you getting healthier?
CREAN: "Our first full practice was Tuesday where we had everyone in it. Every freshman has missed time. And when they miss a day it's like missing three days. And when you miss a week it's like missing three weeks. It's hard. But there's nothing you can do about it. We try to keep them as engaged as they possibly can be. One day Devin Davis last week I gave him a whistle and he had to run a drill. He wasn't ready for that but he was a lot better 10 minutes later. You have to put them in situations constantly that they're not ready for. I think that's the way we're trying to do it and I've always tried to stay true to this, there is no off day when you're injured or sitting out. You have to stay engaged. It's a play on demand type of culture basketball wise. You have to be ready to go in at any time, you have to be comfortable, you have to have that engagement at a high level and I think putting players in situations where they have to coach, run drills, blow a whistle, be responsible for something inside a drill and then be as tough on them when they're not as you are on the guys who are playing, I think all that stuff adds up.
"I learned a lot about that early on at Marquette the year that Wade sat out for us. We gave him two or three responsibilities during the game that he was responsible for. Now he was practicing every day but he wasn't playing so it would have been so easy to check out mentally and be a fan at the game. But that's not how it works. I think that's one of the reasons why he always talks about what he learned by sitting out that first year. There was so much that he had to do even when he wasn't playing and I've tried to carry that in everything that we do with all of these guys.''
4. What areas to feel like your team is really advanced and what areas do you think you need to work on?
CREAN: "We spend a lot of time on transition defense. I think our transition defense is better than our transition offense right now. We spend a lot of time on positioning defensively but our rotations are not probably as good yet because we have to get our footwork right as far as how you play the ball. We spend a lot of time on spacing and making the next pass. The other day on zero or one passes we were 3-of-18 and they've got to learn that's not what we're doing. Every time I think we've got something that we're in the midst of being pretty good at, then you get into the game and you have game slippage. The transition defense, rebounding the ball, we know we're not as physical as we need to be, and trying to understand the spacing I think those are things that are important.''
5. How much better has Yogi Ferrell gotten this offseason?
CREAN: "I think he's better in every area. Shooting the ball, I think his strength is better even though it was pretty good. People forget, Yogi, in the last four years has been in the state finals, won two state championships and won a Big Ten championship. That's a lot of winning. There are a lot of sophomores in this league getting a lot of recognition. Yogi, Jeremy Hollowell and Hanner Perea have the ring. And they need to remember that. They have a ring, or they're going to get a ring. We haven't gotten the total design yet but they have to understand that they were a part of that winning now what are they capable of to keep that going? That's the pressure I want them to feel. Not the pressure of expectation but the pressure of practicing and playing hard and playing every day. Now Yogi has to raise the expectation level of doing it right all of the time for both himself and his teammates. But he's shooting the ball better. I think he's going to have to get to the foul line for us. He's going to have to get more defensive boards. He's going to have to be a better ball distributor. There's no question that he's going to be the focal point but it can't come in just one or two areas. We're not a team where it's going to be volume shooting. Volume scoring now, we're fine with that. We scored 79 and a half points but we're not a volume shooting team, we're a team that really gets the next pass made and if we're running and defending we'll score a lot of points and I think he's the kingpin of that.''
6. Talk about Evan Gordon and if Gordon and Ferrell can co-exist in the same backcourt together?
CREAN: "We're trying to stretch (Gordon's) game even though he really understands the game. He's strong. He has the quickest hands of anyone I've ever coached. I mean of anybody. Just pure hand quickness so he's really going to help us there. Those two can play together at times but I'm not sure that's what we'll do. It's going to come down to … we learned a lot last year when you play two small guards it only really caught us at the end. And that really only happened because Jordan wasn't really healthy all week long. He never took a physical hit leading up to that Syracuse game and took a cortisone shot 45 minutes before the game. That was the first time. But Jordan could shoot so well. And you could offset some of that. I'm not sure we're there right now. I'm sure they're looking from each other. They play well together. They complement one another when they've been in practice. We'll see how that translates to games.''
7. How good was is to have Stan Robinson come back strong after that injury? We you worried at all when he went down?
CREAN: "No I wasn't worried. I was more concerned that players need to understand the difference between being hurt and injured. There are very few players, even at this point in the season, who feel good every day. We were patient with him and then the doctors cleared him and I think he learned a lot about himself. He learned he had some things in the tank there. I don't think he felt bad. I think he felt tired. I don't think the soreness that he has is anything other than the fatigue in his body. He wasn't using a lot of those muscles and joints for a couple of weeks to almost a month. It has been good to have him back. He's right back to attacking the basket. But he has to earn his way back in. He missed invaluable time as a guard. Because he's a multiple position guard. And when you have that , especially when he's going to have to guard some bigger people for us and he's missed a lot of that in practice, we've got to get that back. But it was good to have him back. It was good to have them all back the other day.''
What do you want Jeremy Hollowell to become this year?
CREAN: "A guy that has consistent energy. I know his goals, I know what he wants to accomplish and it's really going to come down to a consistent level of energy. He's multi-positional right now. I think of all the players on our team right now he might be the most multi-positional. And can he make those switches that you have to make from going from one position to another inside of the game? I think that's going to be really important for him. But he's smart so I think he'll be able to do that. He has got to communicate from whatever position that he's in. He has to rebound at a high level and then he's got to be a good percentage shot maker for us. A very good percentage shot maker. He's as good of a post up player as we've got but he's also turning out to be one of our best ball handlers and drivers and set up players. He has been thrust into roles that he may not have thought he was going to be in already this season because we haven't been very deep in the back court. And then losing Stan set us back. I thought he strived pretty well in that. Now it needs to be a consistent level of energy.''
That's the first installment. We'll have another one in the next few days leading up to Indiana opening the season Friday, Nov. 8 at home against Chicago State.
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