Three years ago, Jordan Hulls and his fellow seniors stood next to their framed jerseys with tears in their eyes. The emotion wasn't so much a result of playing their final game at Assembly Hall, but more so that they would leave Assembly Hall in the way that they did.
Ohio State came to Bloomington and ruined Indiana's Senior Night, and though the Hoosiers clinched a share of the Big Ten title that night, Hulls had little interest in celebrating. The speeches were short, and the Indiana players reluctantly cut down the nets afterward.
The revolutionary class that included Hulls, Christian Watford and Derek Elston lost the final game they ever played at Assembly Hall. Indiana eventually won the outright Big Ten title at Michigan, but it didn't send its seniors out in the right way.
The Hoosiers had another chance on Sunday afternoon, and this time, they took full advantage of it.
The red-hot Hoosiers rolled to an 80-62 win over No. 12 Maryland, their fifth consecutive win to close the regular season. Indiana, which clinched an outright Big Ten Championship last Tuesday at Iowa, made sure Yogi Ferrell's last game at the Hall was a memorable one.
Ferrell deserved a day like this after all he has done for Indiana. He committed to Tom Crean when the program was still struggling, and he stayed with his coach and his team through the good times in the bad.
Big Ten champ as a freshman.
Missed the NCAA Tournament and the NIT as a sophomore.
Off-court issues plagued the team and the Hoosiers lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament when Yogi was a junior.
And then there's this season, one that began in disaster but may well end in triumph, and should firmly cement Ferrell's historic legacy at Indiana.
"There's no reason he shouldn't be appreciated to the highest level," Crean told the crowd while introducing Ferrell. "He came in a winner from high school, he was a winner and a champion his freshman year, he's leaving his senior year a winner."
Crean's voice rose, then cracked. No matter how hard he tried, the emotion came out. Crean and Ferrell spent the last four years together, and they've known each other even longer than that. Crean's highs and lows have been Yogi's highs and lows. Crean is the leader from the bench, and Ferrell is the leader on the floor.
It's such a rare relationship in any sport or any walk of life. Ferrell started from day one as a freshman -- not unusual in today's game -- and stayed for his senior year -- very unusual in today's game. And during the time in between, he and Crean went through a tumultuous ride that only they can understand.
So when it came time for Crean to introduce Ferrell for his Senior Night speech, all that emotion poured out.
"He's gotten nothing but better. Nothing but better, day in and day out," Crean said as his voice cracked and his eyes welled up. "He is one of the great competitors that I've ever been around. He's as headstrong as anyone I've ever been around. But he's also one of the absolute smartest basketball players I've ever had the privilege of coaching.
"What he did this year is he took that competitiveness, he took that headstrong, he took that intelligence, and he matchup it up with an unyielding work ethic, and he carried his team with him, and he carried his coaches with him. He made them better every day. And along the way, he got a lot better because of it."
I'll be honest: I wasn't a big believer when Ferrell got to IU. I knew he was talented, but I thought he was a little too cocky. When Hulls, Watford, Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller left, Ferrell wasn't ready to lead, and I was critical. he didn't understand what it took to be the leader of a championship team at the college level.
Ferrell battled with that for a long time as Crean desperately pleaded for him to work even harder and take his teammates with him. Ferrell was improving individually and was playing well, but he wasn't entirely committed to making sure his teamamtes improved and played well, too. When things got tight during his sophomore and junior seasons, Ferrell often tried to win games on his own, and he succeeded several times.
But at some point this year, whether it was after Maui, after Duke, sometime during the Notre Dame game, or another time -- Crean's message finally reached Ferrell. He saw the big picture, saw his college career coming to an end, saw the coach he loved being mocked and ridiculed by the outside world.
"I've seen the way guys prepare for each game. Vic, Will, the way they used to watch film was unbelievable," Ferrell said. "I feel like I've taken part of that and it's been trickling down to the younger guys. When we go out there and do something wrong in practice, guys are correcting each other on the spot. And when you can do it like that in practice, you can do that in the games. When we go out and play and play together, we don't make the same mistakes twice, especially defensively. I feel like we're one mind defensively."
That wasn't the case in December, but ever since it clicked for Ferrell, he and Indiana have been different, and Ferrell will leave Indiana as one of the best players in the program's rich history because of it. There are a number of reasons Indiana is where it is, but none are bigger than Ferrell's relentless refusal to let his team lose.
On Sunday, the Hoosiers were down James Blackmon and Robert Johnson, two opening-day starters. They were dealing with injuries and illnesses to Juwan Morgan, Max Bielfeldt and Collin Hartman. And they were facing as talented a team as there is in the country.
Didn't matter. Indiana rolled over Maryland like it was nothing more than a pebble on its path to a final destination. The Hoosiers didn't need Sunday's game for anything more than NCAA Tournament, but Crean made it clear Tuesday during IU's locker room celebration that Indiana had no intention to let off the gas pedal.
"It's not closure time," Crean said. "So I don't even want to think in those terms."
As I've written many times, this season turned for Indiana when it came back from a double-digit deficit against Notre Dame in December, and both Crean and Ferrell talked about that on Sunday.
Indiana learned a lot about itself on that day, and the team grew together like other Indiana teams haven't.
"At halftime in that game, coach Crean came up to me and said, 'Go out there and let it come to you. Play free and not reckless. And at the end of the day, I'm still going to go with you as my point guard,'" Ferrell said. "I really took that to heart. He was still rocking with me when I didn't have a great half of that game, and that transitioned into the Big Ten."
Crean's been rocking with Ferrell from day one, and Ferrell's been rocking with Crean. Neither lost faith in the other, and both learned to adjust their styles to best help this team win. Both have faced plenty of doubters, and they'll continue to face doubters today, tomorrow and the next day. But what these two guys have achieved together, after all they've been through ... remarkable.
"When I committed here my junior year, I remember sitting back there in one of those rooms with my dad," Ferrell told the crowd. "My dad told coach Crean, "Make sure you take care of my son." I feel like coach Crean has done that. It's definitely been a fun ride with coach Crean. He's a special coach. He's done so many things for me, and we've been through a lot -- we have. But we stuck together through all the adversity, and I feel like that's what family does. He's a part of my family and I'm a part of his, and I'm going to keep in touch with coach Crean for the rest of my life."
Ferrell's Senior Night speech was rather short, and there were no tears. Maybe there's a reason for that. Tears come with finality, and Ferrell is not finished. The Hoosiers are peaking as they head into the postseason, winners of 5 straight during the most difficult part of their Big Ten schedule.
They have a double-bye in this week's Big Ten Tournament, and are in line for anywhere from a 2-4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
With the way the Hoosiers have played lately, it's entirely fair to ask: Who can stop them?