COLUMN: Hoosiers must be smarter

Devin Davis is in the hospital after suffering a head injury when struck by a car driven by his teammate, who had been drinking underage. It was the third alcohol-related incident in nine months for IU, involving five players. Something has to change. Here's a closer examination.

Indiana had its struggles on the court last season, but many of them were expected after what the Hoosiers lost in the offseason.

Gone were Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller, who left school early for the NBA. So too were Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford and Derek Elston to graduation. Remy Abell transferred in the offseason. Luke Fischer transferred before the Big Ten schedule arrived.

When Indiana struggled to find consistency, it wasn't all that surprising. It was something of a rebuilding year, something IU fans never want to hear.

Many of the on-court mistakes could be excused. The Hoosiers were young, inexperienced.

The most disappointing part about last year's team was the off-the-court issues, the arrests of Hanner Mosquera-Perea in February for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated and of Yogi Ferrell and Stanford Robinson in April for underage consumption and possession of fake identification.

Those are mistakes that are much harder to excuse, especially for a team that limped to a 17-15 record and missed the postseason. Those mistakes send the wrong message to the public about the team's focus and mentality, but even worse is the message it sends to the team's younger players and signed recruits who look up to the veterans and watch their actions closely.

All offseason, Indiana was eager to put last year in the past and begin anew. This is a new team, one full of players that enjoy being around one another and believe they can accomplish many things this year. Tom Crean eliminated off-campus housing for every player, forcing them instead to live in one of the campus' dormitories.

His hope? That the players would live together in close quarters, stay focused on a common goal, and stay out of trouble.

But when sophomore forward Devin Davis was found unconscious early Saturday morning after being struck by a car driven by his underage teammate, Emmitt Holt, the negative cloud that hovered over the program at times a year ago suddenly reappeared. Holt, 18, was not drunk, but he had alcohol in his system and was cited for underage drinking and operating a vehicle.

[NOTE: As of Sunday morning, Davis was doing better. He was awake, his speech was normal, and he had full use of all of his extremities. That's great news. Davis' health is more important than everything else I am writing about in this column.]

First, the purpose of this column is not to access blame. At all. The purpose is simply to point out a recurring problem that exists and needs to be corrected, for the good of the basketball program and the University.

You can blame Tom Crean all you want, but I do not believe this is his fault. You can come up with the best plan in the world, put your players in the best position to make good decisions, and it doesn't matter if they don't choose to make those decisions.

Crean cannot be with his players around the clock. The NCAA severely limits the time coaches can spend with their players. He cannot walk around campus holding their hands and watching to make sure they do the right thing in every situation. These are young people that must learn by making decisions on their own, both in basketball and in life.

Coaching is so difficult in this day and age. Kids are more sensitive than they used to be. This country is more sensitive than it used to be. In many ways, college sports have become more like professional sports than ever before. There's a thin line between an effective amount of discipline and punishment and losing a player altogether. It's just the way it is.

Crean has tried to clean this up, and I'm sure he will continue to do so. At some point, though, it's about young people making smarter decisions. I'm by no means suggesting that the players shouldn't be allowed to go out to drink and party with their friends. They absolutely should. That's a part of the college life, and every person only gets to live that life once. But student athletes have been doing such things for decades and decades, and they've done it without finding trouble. It's not impossible.

Have your fun, make sure you get home to your bed at night, and get back to work the next morning.

Saturday morning's news was both scary and frustrating, the type of story you hope you never have to report on. It's supposed to be the most exciting time of year for Indiana basketball players and their fans. IU has an exhibition game on Thursday. The regular season is only days away.

The focus should be on basketball and strategy. Instead, it's on Indiana's third alcohol-related incident involving five different players in the last nine months. IU fans should be excited for IU's new-look team. Instead, they're worrying about the health of one of the players and the team's even-thinner front line.

Something has to change, and it has to change now. Oladipo, Hulls, Will Sheehey and others worked too hard to create a positive culture at IU, and it cannot be undone by poor decisions off the court. It simply cannot.

Like it or not, guys like Ferrell, Robinson, Davis and others are the veteran leaders on the team. They must step up and refuse to let this happen again. And they must do it now.

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