We’re a few days away from college basketball underclassmen declaring whether they’re in the NBA for good (thus forfeiting their remaining years of eligibility) or returning to college.
Butler’s Gordon Hayward is likely to skip his final two years, even though with him the Bulldogs will be national title contenders. Why leave early? Because he’s projected to be drafted between No. 10 and No. 20. First-round draft picks receive guaranteed contracts worth millions of dollars. It would be hard to pass that up.
What does this mean for Indiana? Nothing on the surface. The Bulldogs will still recruit players who fit their system, school and philosophy. So will the Hoosiers. Sometimes they’ll butt heads. Sometimes not.
But Butler’s national runner-up finish gives it the kind of elite profile that, if sustained, could add to the recruiting competition IU already faces from Purdue, Notre Dame, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan State and Ohio State.
Yes, Indiana coach Tom Crean has noticed.
“I think this is what you to remember about Butler -- 14 of the last 16 years they have been over 20 wins. Butler over the past few years and you would have to say this about Purdue too, they took a lot of Indiana's identity. They are winning the way that Indiana has won. That's a credit to them because they have done that for a long time. Purdue has done it for a long period of time. We've got to continue to get that identity back.”
Crean understands the pressure, criticism and impatience. He gets paid very well to return the program to elite status. It comes down to getting the right fit.
“That’s what having tough people who understand how to make you better does,” Crean says about the recent success of Butler and Purdue. “They’re relentless in their pursuit of character. They know it’s a kid’s game; you have to relate that way. At the same time you have to be the adult who makes them better. Those parents trust you to make their kids better. It’s such an instant gratification society, college sports in general, especially basketball. You have to show (players) how they’re going to get better every day even it they don’t want to do that.”
It’s about effort and out-working the other guy, about doing unto others as they DON’T want done to themselves because there’s a great good at work here.
“That’s the identity we’re looking for,” Crean said. “I’m a fan of Butler, but I was a fan long time ago. I’m a fan of Purdue and it started when I was in the Big Ten (at Michigan State). The conference always came down to Purdue and Indiana. You started with that. You’d see how Purdue played a team. Then you’d see how Indiana did it. That’s what we want to get to. It’s taking time. It’s going to take more time.”
Nobody wants to hear need-more-time talk after consecutive 20-loss seasons, the worst stretch in school history, but it’s the truth. And as much as fans hate hearing it, Crean hates saying it.
“Everybody tells me have to have patience,” he says. “I can’t do that. Perspective is what I want. Perspective to what has happened. Perspective to go as hard as you can every day to make it better.”
Crean is determined to make it better. Every day, he gets a little closer.