Saturday, June 18, 2011

Best Possible Choice -- Cheaney Returns to IU

IU has got itself a good one with Calbert Cheaney.

As good as he was as a player, and you could argue he was the best player in IU history, he’s a better person.

How do I know this?

Personal experience.

I got to cover him when he played for the Hoosiers in the early 1990s. He was always gracious and accommodating. Always. He did the right things the right way. Always. Believe me, not every high-profile college athlete, and you can’t get much higher profile than Cheaney was at IU, does that.

Cheaney, an Evansville native, has made a huge contribution to his old community. That includes building the Greater St. James Community Recreation and Education Center.

Cheaney was officially hired as IU’s director of basketball operations on Saturday morning. He’d spent the previous two years working with the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, the last team he played for. In the first year he was a special assistant in the front office where he worked closely with team players as far as personal and professional development, plus did player evaluations. Last year he was an assistant coach for former IU standout Keith Smart. Smart was fired after last season.

Cheaney represents the best of Hoosier athletics and will be the perfect example of what talent and hard work can do -- on and off the court.

He also will be tough to beat in a game of H-O-R-S-E.

“Calbert will have an impact on our program in a major way,” coach Tom Crean said in a university release. “He wants to get into coaching full time and he knows the path it takes, the work ethic and the sacrifice. Every kid who plays college basketball at this level aspired to achieve what Calbert did on and off the court, both collegiately and as a professional. Having him here as a mentor on a day-to-day basis will be invaluable to our players.”

Cheaney played 13 seasons in the NBA and averaged 9.5 points. He was the national player of the year for IU as a senior, leading the Hoosiers to the 1992 Final Four and the No. 1 ranking in 1993.

“My family and I believe that this was the right time to begin a career in college basketball,” Cheaney said in a university release. “I am expecially looking forward to playing a role in the growth of the players at Indiana. I’m very grateful to Coach Crean for this opportunity to return to IU. I look forward to contributing immediately in any way possible.”

Nobody in Big Ten history scored more than Cheaney’s 2,613 points. Probably nobody ever will. Both Purdue’s E’Twaun Moore and Penn State’s Talor Battle were four-year starters and while both surpassed 2,000 career points, neither came close to Cheaney’s total.

He led the Hoosiers to a 105-27 record in his four seasons. As a senior he averaged 22.4 points and 6.2 rebounds as IU went 17-1 in the Big Ten. That’s the third best conference record ever behind the pair of 18-0 seasons IU had under coach Bob Knight in 1975 and ’76.

“Calbert knows the standard that it takes to be successful academically as a high-level student athlete, and he knows what is expected to play at the NBA level,” Crean said. “He is excited to learn the business of college basketball and we are thrilled to have Calvert (and his family) as part of the IU basketball family on a full-time basis.”

On a side note, Calbert was about 10 years younger than me during his IU playing days. Remarkably, thanks to the benefits of creative writing and modern math, he is now about 10 years older than me.

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