As much as Tom Crean might be looking forward to turning the page on all of the negatives that have plagued the IU program as of late to begin gearing up for the 2008-09 season, there's still a scary reality to face.
His team has to go out and play the 2008-09 season.
Crean's first Hoosier team will be a unit that's been decimated by departures and is devoid of size and experience. Barring any (more) last-minute summer roster additions, Indiana will have only eight available scholarship players along with a handful of walk-ons who will do more than just sit at the end of the bench.
"Really, there isn't anyone in the program that we don't envision having to play," Crean said this week.
When you're only returning scholarship player is a one-time walk-on who averaged 1.3 points last season, it's easy to understand why there could be a degree of trepidation about what's in store this winter. It came as no surprise to Crean that he was going to lose IU's top two scorers from a year ago to the first-round of the NBA Draft, but the mass exodus wasn't anything that he could have expected.
While Crean didn't necessarily look at those since-departed players as potential role models for many of the young players in the program, he doesn't revel in the opportunity to rebuild the roster from scratch.
"It's not like these guys couldn't play that were here," Crean said. "It would have been nice if some of the things could have worked out so they could have been here.
"I'm not sure that I looked at anybody and said I want them leading this group. In fact, I didn't. But I still didn't want it to end up the way it did. But it did."
As a result, Crean had to scramble this spring to find enough players to field a team that he hopes can be competitive. He came away with some very solid late additions highlighted by one-time Marquette signee Nick Williams and one-time USC commit Malik Story, but it's still a team that faces some daunting challenges.
"We know we're going to have to play bigger than our size, we know we're going to have to play smarter than our experience," Crean said. "There's no doubt about that. Those are all things that will have to come out if we're going to have a chance to compete."
So what can Indiana fans expect to see? Crean said the Hoosiers will try to protect their few big men by sprinkling in some zone to go along with his man-to-man defense, and they'll also do their best to play to their strengths.
With a roster that is guard-heavy, that means on-lookers can expect to see a team that tries to get up-and-down the floor, shoots plenty of 3-pointers and steers clear of settling into a halfcourt game where IU's frontcourt deficiencies would be more easily exposed.
"I think we're going to have to speed the tempo up," Crean said. "I look at this team, and I don't think we want to be in a situation where we're fighting it possession by possession and taking time off the clock and trying to win the game 50-48. There might be a game for that, but that's not how we're going to play, that's not what we're trying to sell for the future. We're going to try to get this thing moving, getting up and down the court."
To do that, Crean knows he'll have to go deep into his bench, walk-ons included. Incoming freshmen walk-ons Daniel Moore, Kory Barnett and Broderick Lewis all figure to have a chance to compete for playing time and provide depth thanks to a shortage of scholarship players.
No matter who is on the floor, Crean said he'll demand an approach that has his players doing the little things to help the team be successful.
"I don't care how few guys we have and how young they are, if they're not on the floor for a loose ball or they're not willing to take a charge or they aren't sprinting back on defense or they won't go to the backboards, then they aren't going to play," Crean said. "We'll get that across in a big way."
It's all part of establishing a foundation for the program as Crean and his staff attempt to navigate some significant obstacles to get IU basketball headed in the right direction.
"They're not canceling the season," Crean said. "It's not like we are going to get a reprieve where all of a sudden, ‘we won't send you here, we won't send you there. You don't have to go to Maui now.' No, we do, we have to play a season, and we have to build for the future."
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What Can One Expect From Crean's Team?
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