BLOOMINGTON – In case Tom Crean didn't know how big Indiana basketball is, perhaps the new Hoosier coach should consider this.
While the eyes of the country were focused on Assembly Hall today and the arrival of former U.S. President Bill Clinton for a 2 p.m. speech, that's little more than a sidebar to IU basketball fans who were more interested in what was going on across the parking lot, down the parking ramp, and in the bowels of Memorial Stadium.
That's where the new most powerful man in the Hoosier world was introduced by IU Athletics Director Rick Greenspan as IU's men's basketball coach.
Clinton wasn't alone in taking a backseat on the Bloomington campus today. While the former president was stumping for his wife, Hillary, in her presidential bid, well-known actor and current ‘Entourage' star Jeremy Pivin was about a half-mile away at the Memorial Union speaking out in support of her Democratic primary challenger, Barack Obama.
On most days the town would be abuzz for either one's arrival. After all, the people of this city don't get a chance to catch a first-hand glimpse of a former leader of the free world too often, and they don't see too many celebrities not named John Mellencamp within the city limits.
But this is also Bloomington, Ind., and they care about their basketball and IU's head basketball coach a little bit more.
Crean takes over a Hoosier program that's in a bit of disrepair and a whole lot of disarray following the abrupt exit of Kelvin Sampson in February and the dismissal of players Armon Bassett and Jamarcus Ellis earlier this week by interim coach Dan Dakich.
To make matters worse, Crean figures to accompany Greenspan on a trip to Seattle in June to appear before the NCAA Infractions Committee. Indiana officials are hopeful that the self-imposed sanctions coupled with the forced resignation of Sampson will be enough to stave off any further penalties from the governing body.
That's enough instability to make a seismologist sweat, but it didn't dissuade Crean from walking away from a nine-year run at Marquette that saw his teams win 190 games and make five NCAA tourney appearances.
Crean leaves behind a Golden Eagle team that went 25-10 this season and has its top four players – Dominic James, Jerel McNeal, Lazar Haywood and Wesley Matthews – due back in the fall. That's the makings of a preseason top-10 team and clearly the best squad the Big East school has had since Dwyane Wade was leading the program to the 2003 Final Four.
Crean's giving all that up for an IU squad that currently doesn't have a single member of last year's starting lineup slated to return. Barring reinstatements for Ellis and Bassett or some April magic on the recruiting trail, the Hoosiers have only six scholarship players due back when practice gets underway in October.
So what was the motive for such a move? I'm sure a financial deal that figures to be worth $2 million annually didn't hurt, but Crean summed it up Tuesday night in downtown Bloomington with two words.
"It's Indiana," Crean said.
Yes it is. Indiana hasn't won a national championship in 21 years or a Big Ten title in six, but it's still one of those handful of "destination jobs" that college coaches covet, a place where the right person can win in a big, big way.
It's also one of those places where people will come from miles away, fighting the traffic and elbowing the crowd for a chance to catch a glimpse of the biggest celebrity in town.
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