Bloomington - For the first time this season, Tom Crean admitted his team is tired.
The admission came after another loss, this one a 22-point setback to Northwestern that was the worst IU defeat in the history of Assembly Hall.
The 2008-2009 season started out with Indiana winning its first two games. Then came a trip to Maui, where the Hoosiers got a serious reality check, losing to Notre Dame by 38. Indiana has now dropped 21 of 25 games since opening 2-0, including 14 out of 15 in the Big Ten.
"I've never accepted it and I never will, but this was bound to happen at some point with this team," Crean said of Wednesday's loss to Northwestern. "We've asked a lot of them. A majority of theses guys would be redshirting on most…high quality level (teams) to get that year to get their bodies right, to get stronger and all those kinds of things, to learn the college game. We are asking a lot of guys that have never done this before and it showed up tonight in a big way."
Indiana's losses have come in a variety of ways. Whether it's by two points (at Northwestern on Jan. 28), or by 38 to the Fighting Irish, a loss is a loss, and losing has worn the Hoosiers down. Crean figures the fatigue is more mental than physical.
"There is no question they are mentally drained, but we can't stop working," Crean said. "We have to balance a very tight rope on building that foundation for how this is going to be, and at the same time trying to get the most out of every person we can get. And I don't want to back that off; I am not going to. They are going to get coached every day.
"There are so many things we have to get better at. And we've known that all year. But the steam is running dry right now. We've just got to continue to focus on getting these guys better every step of the way. And continue to do everything we can do to make the foundation strong and thorough and long lasting. And develop players and build for the future."
It's been well documented that the Hoosiers are inexperienced. The most glaring statistical evidence is Indiana returned just 19 points and 185 minutes of Big Ten experience. Senior Kyle Taber was the only scholarship player to return from last year's team, and walk-on Brett Finkelmeier was the only other returnee. While it's not the way Taber wanted to spend his final season in Bloomington, he has played hard, setting career highs in scoring in two consecutive games.
"It's my second to last home game. We want to win. We're trying, working hard every day for it. We have to keep working harder. That's all I'm trying to do right now is get a win," Taber said after the loss to Northwestern. "I've got some great teammates. Being able to be a part of this tradition is great. I'll always remember it."
Regardless of the result this season, Crean wants his team to stay focused on the task at hand.
"I've said the old quote…`Tough times never last, tough people do.' I've tried to make it not a choice to see where you are at on a daily basis and to build that toughness and things like that. It is not my choice; it is an individual choice. Right now the best thing we can all do is understand what our record is, but never come in here and act like it is that way. I know I'll never coach that way. I have a staff that will never coach that way. And I want a group of young men that will never feel that way," Crean said.
Even though there won't be any postseason appearances for the Hoosiers, they can learn from what happened, and get better from it. But Crean said he doesn't talk much with his team about the future.
"Very rarely do I do that [talk about the future]. We had to do an unprecedented thing. We had to do it with a lot of different make-ups and a lot of different personalities and all those different things. For the most part, those guys have battled at an extremely high level. They haven't succeeded at a high level, but they've battled at a high level," he said.
The future is bright for Indiana. Crean and his staff have assembled one of 2009's top recruiting classes in the country. Jordan Hulls, Bobby Capobianco, Christian Watford, Maurice Creek, Derek Elston, and Bawa Muniru will be freshmen in 2009-2010, and Jeremiah Rivers, who transferred from Georgetown, will be eligible to play.
"We just get ready for the next day, we really do. Now as coaches and a coaching staff, you have to have a plan, we have that. But with your team, you just get ready for the next day," Crean said.
Crean's optimism has rubbed off on a lot of people. While the fans might be relieved when the 2008-2009 season is over, they can look to Crean to lead Indiana back to national prominence.
Tough Times Taking A Toll on Hoosiers
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