Tom Crean has hit the damage control circuit. Breaking NCAA rules, even secondary ones, is not something he wants as part of his legacy. It doesn’t reflect the way he, or Indiana University, runs the basketball program.
So he went on Dan Dakich’s radio show on 1070 The Fan. He spoke to a media gathering in Assembly Hall. The message was clear about meeting with stud recruit Gary Harris during a no-contact period -– he screwed up, but there was no intent to do wrong.
“I made an inadvertent recruiting mistake the other day," he said. "I had a miscommunication on the dates. I thought I was doing it right. Fifteen minutes later I found out that I wasn’t.”
To be specific, Crean was told by assistant coach Tim Buckley that last Thursday was the last day of the fall contact period. In fact, the last day was Wednesday. Thursday started an evaluation period during which coaches could observe athletes (like watch Harris practice or play football for Hamilton Southeastern), but not meet and talk with them.
People wonder how this happened. Fellow coaches privately question it. Was this a way for Crean and his staff to try to gain an edge on Harris? The competition is fierce with Purdue, Michigan State and now Kentucky in the mix. Was Crean so intent on making sure he was the last coach to talk to Harris before contact ended that he broke the rules to do it?
His emphatic answer -- no.
“As soon as (I found out), as soon as I could drive myself off the road in anger, I guess, at myself, we called it in immediately to the people who needed to know. Most importantly, we handled it with compliance. We moved rapidly to get it in, not let it linger. We tried to move forward as quicly as we could.”
IU self penalized itself by cutting its two days out of the 120 its allowed to contact players during this academic year. It also forfeited one of its three days it can contact Harris.
It’s beyond belief to think Crean or Buckley would deliberately break the rule. Yes, the NCAA calendar has been out for months, which means coaches should know when they can and can’t contact players.
But the risk-reward doesn’t justify intentional breaking the rule. Plus, after the sanctions IU has endured from the Kelvin Sampson era, deliberately breaking rules is the last thing you’d expect.
Harris has talked with Crean a ton, and one more meeting, about 10 days before he takes his official visit to IU and attends Hoosier Hysteria, doesn’t have make-or-break status. Only a desperate coach or program would do that, and with Crean already poised to sign the nation’s No. 1 class for 2012, desperation isn’t part of the mix.
Crean told Dakich that, “There’s no excuse or let’s try to rationalize it. It just happened …
“That’s not how you break a rule if you’re looking to break a rule… If you’re looing to circumvent something you don’t do it that way, but it happened. As direct as I can put it, it was an honest misake.”
Crean is a non-stop wave of energy. He’s always cramming 30 hours worth of stuff into a 20-hour window. You have that much going on and things get forgotten or jumbled. That’s almost certainly the case here. There are a lot of rules and a lot of other things pertaining to the program and life to consider. On that Thursday, Crean had scheduled the media challenge, plus other recruiting beyond Harris.
“We had other (recruiting) things planned that day, all of it thinking we were still in a contact period. It was an inadvertent mistake. I’m glad we caught it when we did. It’s my responsibility. We’ve answered it. That’s as much as I can say. Obviously there’s a recruit involved. It was handled and processed before I ever got back to Bloomington.”
Now it’s time to get back to basketball. The Hoosiers expect a huge crowd, perhaps close to a sellout for Saturday’s Hoosier Hysteria. Optimism is high for a turnaround season. Assuming this is just a one-time glitch and not a pattern, it’s time to move on. If it’s not, well, we know what that can do to a season and a program.