Thursday, February 25, 2010

Forget Patience -- Crean Wants Warriors

Tom Crean has gone edgy. Check that. He’s gone edgier, and not just because he’s gotten himself thrown out of his first Indiana basketball game.

His words are sometimes sharp enough to cut diamonds. So is his voice, although it’s so hoarse from non-stop coaching it's hard to separate edge from vocal cord exhaustion.

The man is tired of losing. He’s tired of telling his players to do “A” and watch them drift into “B” or “C,” either because they’re too young, stubborn, unaware or, well, just not his kind of player.

They’ll get it all sorted, one way or another. For now, all we have to go by are games, and after nine straight losses, you figure there’s GOT to be more to Big Ten life than being fodder for the Wisconsin Badgers.

IU goes to Madison and gets crushed by 28. Wisconsin comes to Bloomington and wins by 32 in sweeping the Hoosiers for the third straight season. How is that possible? Isn’t home court supposed to mean something?

It does, of course, and some day a Crean-coached team will prove it.

For now, as the season mercifully draws to a close, we get lessons. There’s been a season full of them, with a 9-18 record to show for it. Crean yearns for the day he can bench guys who don’t perform at the necessary level, not because he’s a jerk but because the bench is the most effective way to send players a message they’ll actually respond to.

“I’m not mad at anybody,” he says. “But I want guys to get better. If I get patient, it won’t serve them well, now or in the future.

“I don’t have patience in me. I have more than I thought, but I don’t like it. I want street fighters on my team. The more we can help develop that, the better we’ll be. And if it can’t be developed, we’ll have to move in another direction.”

Crean is implying -- okay, he’s saying very clearly -- that guys who don’t buy into his coaching and play with the necessary toughness need to move on. And his track record, including a Final Four berth, suggests not buying in isn’t very smart.

“You can’t win in this league, or any power conference, without guys willing to lay it out there, to play through adversity,” he says. “I want to recruit guys who have been through something in life that helps them understand that life is not easy. That’s the psychology part of it. We have so many lessons here and I want guys to come in with lessons, guys who understand life is not about swimming pools and country clubs.”

It’s no country club playing Wisconsin, or Michigan State or Purdue. It’s hard, demanding, grueling. And then, when officiating breaks seem to go to the other, older, better guys, well, sometimes getting ejected is the only way to keep fighting. It’s survival of the fittest and right now, that’s not the Hoosiers. Still, there are signs, the most recent being Derek Elston, who came off the bench against Wisconsin to total 12 points and seven rebounds.

That wasn’t enough to beat the Badgers, but it was enough to show how to do it if enough Hoosiers buy in. Eventually, enough will.

Eventually. Because like it or not, patience is a huge piece of this rebuilding puzzle.

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