DECKER: Challenges Loom for Players, Fans

Bloomington – Two weeks ago new IU coach Tom Crean sat in his disheveled Assembly Hall office, surrounded by enough boxes to suggest he was just now settling into his new job and enough spring recruit tapes to intimate he was inheriting an unsettled program.

Bloomington – Two weeks ago new IU coach Tom Crean sat in his disheveled Assembly Hall office, surrounded by enough boxes to suggest he was just now settling into his new job and enough spring recruit tapes to intimate he was inheriting an unsettled program.

From his first moments on the job, Crean had preached the need for fans to be patient as he embarks on the challenge of rebuilding the program. At that time, he knew the team's two All-Americans were gone, two other players had been dismissed, and two recruits had opted out of their letters of intent.

But the question remained – could the fans at a program like Indiana actually be patient?

Crean pondered the question, and was honest in his response.

"I don't know," Crean said. "The ones I've been meeting say they will. But I don't know."

Well, they better be. Because after the latest wave of player departures and dismissals, the forecast is for a long winter in Bloomington.

Following Eli Holman's noisy exit Thursday and the more conventional dismissal of DeAndre Thomas Friday, Indiana is slated to have only seven scholarship players on the roster next fall. While that number could grow if Verdell Jones and/or Maurice Sutton decide to add their names to IU's spring signee list later this month, it's still a roster virtually devoid of any semblance of experience.

Assuming Jordan Crawford returns, he'll be the only player on the roster who played a significant role this season. The second most experienced player figures to be junior college transfer Devon Dumes, the Indianapolis native who averaged 8.1 points per game two years ago at Eastern Michigan before transferring to Vincennes (Ind.) J.C. for the 2007-08 campaign.

That duo will be complemented by a sophomore who played zero meaningful minutes last season (Brandon McGee) a couple of scholarship freshmen who will be getting their first taste of college basketball (Nick Williams and Matt Roth), and a trio of walk-ons who could also be pressed into duty (Brett Finkelmeier, Kory Barnett and Daniel Moore).

As troubling as that might sound…that's the good news.

The situation in the frontcourt is frightful. With the exit of Holman and Thomas, Indiana has only two frontcourt players – one-time walk-on Kyle Taber and freshman Tom Pritchard. While Taber surprised many with his play down the stretch and Pritchard has the potential to blossom into a nice player, neither is expected to give the Hoosiers a legitimate low post scoring threat. Sutton appears to be a very realistic possibility to join the team as well, but his greatest impact would likely come on the defensive end and on the glass early in his career.

As much as it might pain the most optimistic of Hoosier fans, Indiana appears headed for a season spent looking up at a lot of teams in the Big Ten standings, and at things other than wins and losses to judge the season's success.

Crean said as much two weeks ago, but his words ring even more true today.

"I think what we want to establish this year is a work ethic, an enthusiasm, and an energy that people can feel," Crean said. "Where that goes numerically, where that goes in the standings, at this point, I have absolutely no clue."

Where it will go, unfortunately, is probably not very far when it comes to wins and losses. With the always rugged Big Ten schedule plus a non-conference slate that includes Kentucky, Wake Forest and the Maui Invitational, the Hoosiers' prospects of a postseason berth of any kind appear bleak.

It figures to be a season full of challenges - for players, coaches and fans alike.


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