Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Crean Recruiting Parable -- The Basketball SOB

So let’s say you enter some Stephen King-like fog one morning and come out the other side as Tom Crean. Yes, this would mean you were making $2.3 million a year, which could buy a lot of, say, Storm Trooper outfits, but that’s not your priority. Restoring Indiana basketball glory is and that means you’ve got to recruit, and recruit well.

So what do you look for?

The easy answer is sign three LeBron James, two John Walls and one Shaq and you’re good to go. Of course, recruiting isn’t always easy, even if you’re Roy Williams, and you’ll need more than just a bunch of guys who can run and jump, dribble with their left hand and consistently hit three-pointers.

You need guys who will rebound, guys who will defend, guys who make plays with the game on the line (can you say Evan Turner?), and because this takes effort and awareness and tenacity, you need guys who have heart. But what does that mean? Consider this tale Crean once told, sort of a recruiting parable.

Ralph Willard was coaching Pitt back in the day, when Crean was a Michigan State assistant coach and real men relaxed by reading Dan Gable’s training techniques. They were at a wedding and, of course, talk turned to the bride’s dress and the gorgeous flowers and those frilly …

Wait. Of course they didn’t talk dresses and flowers. They talked recruiting and Willard was saying he made a mistake by not recruiting at Pitt like he did at Western Kentucky. In other words, Willard had gotten seduced by the glamour guys, the highly ranked guys, yes even the prima donna guys rather than the blue-collar, do-what-needs-to-be-done players who had led Western Kentucky to the Sweet 16 while he was there.

“That registered with me,” Crean said. “Every time I get too caught up in where I guy is ranked, it’s reiterated more to me to look for things like toughness, winning, basketball temperament, that desire to be on the court, that desire to get better. All those things matter more than ever.

“Talent is not a great separator. You’ve got to get that toughness where you fight just a little bit longer. If you have that in practice and start carrying that into games, you have something. It’s the same with every sport.

“You can get away from that. I did at Marquette a few times. I started looking at upside and talent rather than pure toughness.”

So Crean seeks toughness to go with talent. He wants hard-nosed SOBs who can break you with their will even more than their skill, yet still go to class and handle themselves with class, and the sooner the better.

It’s highly unlikely that every Hoosier who is supposed to return from IU’s 10-21 team will return, either by their choice or Crean’s choice or mutual agreement. He needs to sign more players, to upgrade the talent as well as balance the class numbers. He needs size and a junior college player or two might provide the maturity to go with that size.

Mostly, though, he needs guys who know how to win, who are fierce competitors who seek out and thrive on challenges.

And, of course, who look good in Storm Trooper outfits.

Sorry. Anyway, figure on a spring recruiting surprise or two. How do we know this? Let’s just say Stephen King isn’t the only one who knows his way around supernatural fogs.

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