Thursday, June 17, 2010

Why Bawa Said Bye Bye To Indiana Basketball

So here we are, three weeks into June, and the Indiana basketball announcement that should have come a month ago rockets through Cream ‘n Crimson cyberspace like an errant Tiger Woods’ tee shot:

Bawa Muniru is leaving the program.

Are you shocked?

Of course not.

The timing is odd. Usually transferring players announce they’re leaving right around the time the second semester ends. After May passed and then much of June without any movement, it seemed as if everybody would be back.

Now, we know they all won’t be. Perhaps the announcement was delayed because of academics. Muniru will first finish his summer classes at IU before going wherever it is he is going. Muniru's guardian, Brian Privett, told the Bloomington Herald-Times' Dustin Dopirak it was a mutual decision as it became clear in off-season workouts that Muniru wasn't developing fast enough to warrant more playing time next season.

The announcement does somewhat solve the mystery of where coach Tom Crean is going to get enough scholarships to accommodate all the offers he is making for the classes of 2011 and 2012. Losing Muniru opens up one. More than likely others will open up as well.

Who else could leave?

That is a blog for another day.

For now though we have Muniru, a 6-11,, 242-pound package of potential (he was rated the nation's No. 11 center coming out of high school) who never seemed to fit Crean’s system. Muniru was a caring kid, a dedicated student and a sit-the-bench fixture. He arrived with plenty of expectations (even if most were unrealistic) and never got a game chance to show what he could do. He played in just 19 games, averaged 3.3 minutes, 0.6 points and 0.7 rebounds, and looked lost most of the time. He never scored more than two points or grabbed more than three rebounds.

As the season went on and Muniru’s minutes dropped to virtually zero, momentum grew to play him and give him a chance. Why not? The Hoosiers, after all, were losing badly and often. It’s not like they were contending for a Big Ten championship and Crean couldn’t risk blowing it by playing a guy who wasn’t ready. Seriously, how bad could Muniru be? Could IU have played any worse than it did?

The bottom line was coaches never trusted him enough to be where he needed to be on offense and defense. In other words, he was out of position a lot. Even more important, they felt they could trust guys such as Bobby Capobianco and Derek Elston. Those guys played. Muniru sat and, apparently, steamed.

In truth, Crean’s pro-like system can get complicated for someone who lacked the basketball upbringing that makes state of Indiana players so valuable at all levels. Muniru is from Africa and got a later start in the game. Crean rotated defenses from man to zone and back again. His set-play offense demanded players go to the right spot, make the right cuts and set the right screens.

Muniru struggled with that.

Still, he was 6-11 and had long arms and could run and jump. A lot of major college coaches wanted him. You figured if he did nothing but rebound and play defense, he’d make a major impact. But whatever impact Muniru made stayed hidden in practices, which were closed to the media, the public and even the spies.

Yes, we tried to plant some spies. We failed. Crean’s security is too good.

Muniru has three years of eligibility remaining. He wants to play. He wants to make an impact. That wasn’t going to happen at IU. So he decided to leave. IU coaches did not disagree.

“As a staff we think the best thing for Bawa is to go to a program where he can play and continue his education,” Crean said in a university release. “His desire for more playing time was very evident. We told him his best opportunity to play was likely going to have to happen somewhere else.”

In the end Muniru, much like fellow African native Tijan Jobe, was a project, and IU couldn’t afford a project. He needed a redshirt season to develop, which leads to an obvious question -- if you saw how raw he was and were going to play him so little, why not redshirt him? The seemingly obvious answer –- Crean must have promised not to redshirt him in order to sign him.

It was a gamble that didn’t work out. And in a bit of irony, because of NCAA transfer rules, Muniru will now get that redshirt season.

“I feel it is in my best interests to pursue my basketball career somewhere else,” Muniru said in a university release. “I have appreciated my time at Indiana.”

Appreciation was apparently mutual.

“We always want to give our players the best opportunity for growth as a player and as a person,” Crean said. “(Bawa) has worked extremely hard in the classroom and we appreciate all he has done in representing the program.”

In an ideal world, Muniru and IU will be better off apart. In this real world, we’ll have to see. It’s a shame it didn’t work out because the Hoosiers could really use a 6-11 athletic inside presence.

At least our spies told us that much.

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