Raleigh, N.C. – Twenty-four hours before IU's NCAA opener against Arkansas, Jordan Crawford uttered some words many have been waiting to hear.
"It was really hard, harder on some than others," Crawford said of the team's ability to cope with Kelvin Sampson's departure four weeks ago. "But it's over now, and we're here to play for Coach (Dan) Dakich."
This is the same team that reportedly threatened to quit if Sampson was fired in the wake of allegations of NCAA rules violations last month, and then weren't warm and fuzzy about Dakich being the choice to take over instead of Ray McCallum. While they ultimately didn't skip town, many did inscribe their former coach's initials on their shoes, and they've occasionally played as if they wanted to be somewhere else since his untimely exit.
But on the eve of a game that represents one final chance to make something of a once-promising season gone bad, many of IU's players were saying they've turned the page on the drama that's besieged the program.
"That's over now," said DeAndre Thomas, who might be in the starting lineup against the Razorbacks' big, athletic frontline. "We were worried about it at first, but it's over now. We're focused on ourselves now. We're trying to make history."
To make history IU will have to end its recent history of substandard play, Maybe time has, in fact, healed the Hoosiers' wounds. That won't become clear until the eighth-seeded Hoosiers (27-5) and Arkansas (22-11) get things underway tomorrow night at approximately 9:40 p.m. But if Indiana has found a way to set aside the turmoil, an assist likely needs to go to D.J. White.
While this team has leaned on the Big Ten Player of the Year for his points (17.3/contest) and rebounds (10.4) all season, it has relied on him even more as of late for leadership and wisdom. White has preached the message of "togetherness" ever since the postseason got underway, an unveiled reference to the fact this team has appeared to be splitting at the seams at times.
One of the players who's appeared to be most affected by Sampson's departure is junior Jamarcus Ellis, who was suspended for IU's regular season ending loss at Penn State and has averaged only 4.0 points/games since Dakich took over. But he credits White's guidance in helping him through a tough time.
"We have a great captain in D.J. White who has kept us together," Ellis said. "At times I'd get frustrated when we'd get down, but D.J. is a great leader and I'm trying to learn from him. He's told us to be strong, and to know he's there with us."
White also has a wealth of experience to draw from when it comes to coping with trying times. He's now lost two coaches during his IU days as well as one season to injury.
"He knows how to get through every situation," Crawford said. "Every situation I've been in he's already been in. We've really been looking to him for help."
If Indiana is going to come away with a win against a talented Arkansas team and advance to the second round, those players are going to have to return the favor. White has averaged a rock-steady 17.7 points and 10.2 rebounds during Dakich's six-game stint as interim head coach, but everyone else's struggles resulted in a 3-3 finish to the season that sent the Hoosiers' seed plummeting.
"As everyone knows, we had a lot of transition this year," White said. "We have a chance to end the year special. You know, it starts tomorrow night."
Hoosiers Ready to Play...for Dakich
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