Indiana's regular season is just around the corner, but much of the talk involving IU these days has nothing to do with basketball.
That's the unfortunate reality for a program that has had a number of off-court incidents over the past nine months, including one that left sophomore forward Devin Davis in the hospital with a traumatic brain injury.
Three players missed Thursday night's exhibition game due to suspension, and that doesn't include Davis, who remains hospitalized after being struck by a car by teammate Emmitt Holt 10 days ago.
The off-court incidents have left a black eye on a once-proud program, stained a culture that former IU players worked so hard to establish.
We should be talking about basketball. Instead, we're talking about things like accountability and immaturity.
"With all that's gone on, the things last year and now the most recent incidents, it is very frustrating, no doubt," said former Indiana guard Jordan Hulls, a Bloomington native now playing professionally in Kosovo. "I love Indiana, what the school and basketball have always stood for with their rich traditions. That's what we came to do when we came to IU to play for coach Crean, bring back the culture that IU has always been known for.
"These guys have to understand that you can't be a normal college kid; you're under a microscope. I'm not saying don't have your fun, but you have to know that you're being watched everywhere you go, you never know who is watching, but trust me there's someone."
Hulls arrived at IU when the program was at its lowest point. Tom Crean had inherited a mess left by former coach Kelvin Sampson, and he slowly worked to rebuild it back to what it once was. Hulls was a big part of that.
Thanks to guys like Hulls, Christian Watford, Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey, Indiana built a winning culture. They outworked everybody, started getting big recruits again, and reached the Sweet Sixteen in back-to-back years.
Hulls knows what it takes. The currently players simply do not.
"Being a college student athlete is like a full time job, and although you're still a kid, you have to hold you and your teammates accountable because there are people out there who are paying your way through college and allowing you play a game you love, so you have to treat it that way," Hulls said. "As many of us former players have said, it's a privilege to wear that Indiana jersey and run out onto Assembly Hall in front of the best fans in the country. There are millions of kids who would give anything to be in that situation; it's not something to be taken for granted."Guys like Derek Elston, Christian Watford, Will Sheehey, Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller... And all the other guys, players and coaches, involved in bringing back the program worked too hard for it to just be wasted away.
"These young guys think they know success and what it takes, but they don't."
Hulls' approach to college basketball was different than most. He says he never took a single sip of alcohol during college, having his first drink when he was 23 years old. He still doesn't like beer. The one alcohol he does like, Fireball, has been recalled in Europe.
"I had my fun, but I viewed it as I needed all the help I could get being the little white kid out there, couldn’t afford to be slowed down," Hulls said.
Hulls doesn't suggest that the current IU players shouldn't drink, but it's clear after three alcohol-related incidents in nine months, something must change.
When Hulls and Co. were in town, there wasn't a chance guys like Yogi Ferrell and Hanner Mosquera-Perea were going to screw up off the court. The veteran guys worked far too hard to let young guys ruin the season for them. They made sure that didn't happen.
That kind of accountability simply doesn't exist at IU right now.
"I can't say I saw all of what has happened coming because when we were there we had a whole different mindset," Hulls said. "They listened because they had never been there before and we had a tight knit group of guys that wanted to win and do it the right way. Now I will say, I know that Will [Sheehey] and Jeff [Howard] last year did what they could to be the best leaders they could; and in my mind you can't do it by yourself, you need a whole team willing to buy in and focus on the season goals.
"Among players we talked about being smart, that's really all it is. Don't do anything stupid to cause a bad reflection on the team, the program, or the university. Of course there's time for fun, not saying there isn't. But we understood what we were capable of and we didn't want anything to get in the way of that. If we had, then we would be haunted the rest of our lives with the 'woulda, coulda, shoulda'."
Many people outside of the program put much of the blame for the off-court issues on Crean, who gave Mosquera-Perea just a two-game suspension for his OWI arrest. Crean admitted last week that he's sometimes been too forgiving of the individual. That's just his personality. He cares so deeply about each and every one of his players.
Hulls offered full support of his former coach, saying this is on the immature players, not Crean.
"There's only so much coach can do," Hulls said. "He already put them in the dorms, and other things. He can't babysit them, they're adults and have to take responsibility and understand that IU basketball is bigger than themselves, you have to completely change your approach to everything.
"I'm not in there every day and know what's going on with punishments in practice and so forth so it's really hard for me to say what should or should not be done. Do I think harsher punishments send a better message? Maybe so, but it's tough on [Crean]. And I don't know the ins and outs of everything that goes on since I'm away. These guys are making his job a whole lot harder. The coaching staff shouldn't have to deal with these things because it's taking time away from getting better at basketball, for IU. What they're doing is making him and the coaching staff look unprofessional, which is something they're not."
Even though he's a long way from Bloomington, Hulls and his former teammates have paid close attention to what has gone on with the IU program. Hulls is disappointed in what the current players are doing, and he hopes they can make changes, and quickly.
"We are all frustrated about the situation because we all worked so hard to bring back that Indiana culture," Hulls said. "They weren't that way when we were all there because they didn't know any better. They should know better because they saw how we did it, but obviously it's not that way right now. I'm frustrated because they guys have a lot of talent but don't have the mental toughness to just stay focused on basketball and school. All the fun stuff can come later once you win and offseason gets here."Indiana beats Northwood 94-70 in exhibition game
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