Derek Elston is back in Bloomington after three years away, and Indiana fans have responded with overwhelming enthusiasm. Elston, 25, was always a fan favorite during his playing days at Indiana, and Tom Crean has continually mentioned him as an unsung hero on teams that included Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller in 2011-12 and 2012-13.
Elston is back to help the Hoosiers in any way that he can. But while Elston was playing professionally in the beautiful island nation of Malta, I wondered what Elston's life was like there. He had great success in the league there, and he was living in one of the more beautiful places in the world.
For some reason, I think many of you have wondered the same thing. So I asked Derek about those days, about how he would help the Hoosiers this year, and many other things in my exclusive conversation with the Tipton Tornado. Read that conversation below. The audio of the interview will be available shortly as well.
JUSTIN ALBERS: What's it like being back here?
DEREK ELSTON: "It's unbelieveable being part of this again. I will say, it's been a little bit of a rush with a new car, new apartment, everything like that. It's a new situation for me, and it's a little stressful at times. I haven't had much relax time, but I guess that's the way it goes sometimes. Just being around the basketball scene again with these guys is great, and this team is great. Good players, good guys."
ALBERS: I think a lot of people just want to know, what was a day in the life of Derek Elston like when you were living in Malta, playing over there, having success?
ELSTON: "A typical day would be me at 6 am with my coach at the gym, just working 1-on-1, individual stuff. Not necessarily the hardest, it's not like this. It's not taxing on the body. But get in there, put in some good work for an hour and a half. Go back to the hotel, eat breakfast, kind of relax, get a nap in. Then, depending on whether we had practice or not, a couple of the guys and I would go down to the beach and grab a coffee or a tea and enjoy life, enjoy the weather. That's pretty much what it was about."
ALBERS: Beautiful women?
ELSTON: "(Smiles and laughs) It was a good time. I tried to stay as focused as I could, let's just say that. But yeah, I had a good time."
ALBERS: Do people know who you are when you're walking around there? You obviously had some pretty good success in that league. Did you get recognized when you walked around?
ELSTON: "It got to the point where I was walking around town, and people would have even Indiana stuff. They knew who I was from playing at IU for four years. Not as big, nothing like Indiana, but I still had a lot of people come up and ask me for a photograph. Maybe it was just because of my height, I don't know, but I kind of like to think it was because of how I played there."
ALBERS: You make pretty good money?
ELSTON: "I made pretty good money. But I don't think the money really matters when your body just doesn't feel very well and you can't really play the way you think that you should. My mind said I could go out there and kill anybody, but my body kinda wouldn't let me. I took this job with coach Crean and I think it was the best decision for me."
ALBERS: How difficult was it living and playing in a foreign country?
ELSTON: "Saying goodbye to the game, for me, was the toughest part. I can't really work out with these guys as much as I'd like. I work out on my own anytime I want to, but it's not the same."
ALBERS: How did this opportunity come about? You just reach out to coach Crean? He reaches out to you?
ELSTON: "He pretty much just reached out to me. He thought I was going to be playing again this season overseas. He saw a picture of my girlfriend and I having a date night that we posted, and he called me and asked if I was home. He had me come down here and kind of interview, I worked out, and he kind of asked me if this was something I'd be interested in. I was, I applied for it, and we took off from there."
ALBERS: You here an "official" job title, but what do you see as your role here? What do you want to get out of it, and what do they want to get out of you?
ELSTON: "For me, I just want to be the mentor. This is my first year doing anything like this. I've only ever known playing basketball. I really haven't seen it from this side. I just want to be there for these guys. I want to be a mentor to these guys, I want these guys to know that I'm here trying to take care of you guys. I know what it's like to be away from family, I know what it's like when coach Crean throws three new play calls at you in a day and you just have no idea. A lot of these young guys, they struggle with that sometimes. I just want them to come to me and just ask questions. I'm an open book. I want these guys to know how coach does things and I just want it to be successful. I want to lift guys up and be successful. That's my goal."
ALBERS: I know you got to get back together with all your old teammates at Jordan Hulls' wedding over the summer. What was that experience like for you?
ELSTON: "It was probably one of the best days I've ever had. A lot of those guys -- Cody, Vic, Christian -- you don't see a lot of those guys anymore. It's just fun to be around the same guys again. And no one's really changed. That's the crazy thing. You hear things about people, but then when we're all back together, it's just like we were when we were in college. It was literally one of the best times in my life."