Even for a veteran coach such as Tom Crean, this is virgin territory.
The Hoosiers are, by a lot of experts, the very early preseason No. 1 basketball team. Expectations are high. Visibility is nationwide as it hasn’t been in a long, long time.
So what does this mean for recruiting?
Crean doesn’t know.
“I’ve never been there,” he says.
He stands in spacious Lucas Oil Stadium for the opening stop on Indiana’s Tailgate Tour that promotes the university’s entire sports program and then considers the possibilities.
“Our last season has helped open the eyes of some other people around the country. At the same time, it starts the way that it did when we first got here. You start inside-out.
“I don’t think there’s any question that we’ll recruit the state of Indiana as hard as we ever have. That’s already being proven. Make sure you can go other places if it fits your program and the way you’re trying to go with it.”
IU has always been able to recruit nationally, and Crean has tapped into that. On its current roster it has a player from Alabama (Christian Watford), Maryland (Maurice Creek and Victor Oladipo) and Florida (Will Sheehey). Incoming freshman Peter Jurkin is from North Carolina and Africa.
It might help Crean land top-20-caliber players from far away, but given the talent in the state of Indiana, which shows no signs of slowing down, that’s not crucial to the Hoosiers’ national-title prospects.
And speaking of those, Crean continues to push what’s really important – that the players and coaches focus on improvement and preparation.
“The biggest thing for the team is to make sure they stay locked into the daily process of how much better they’re going to get,” he says. “What their improvement is like.
“For us coaches, make sure we’re adhering to the same things and getting us better and not getting caught up (in all the hype).
“The sign in my office says, ‘Just coach the team.’ I have to look at that more right now. There are a lot of ways to get distracted and get pulled in different directions. It’s not worth it. What’s worth it is making sure we’re getting our team better. That we’re recruiting at a high level. Make sure we’re pputting in a lot of time with unofficial visits. Keeping in touch with people. Make sure we’re there for our players and they understand how important it is for them to improve. The rest of it falls in line with that.”
At least publicly, Crean has no regrets about the end of the IU-Kentucky basketball series. Hoosier officials wanted to keep the home-and-home series. Wildcat officials, prodded by coach John Calipari, wanted to play on neutral sites.
Ain’t happening, Crean says.
“We saw no reason to move it off campus. If it’s going to move off, we didn’t want to do it at this point.”
Crean said even without UK, Indiana’s schedule is plenty tough enough.
There will be a Big Ten-ACC Challenge battle, with either North Carolina or North Carolina State the most likely opponent.
November’s Legends Classic in New York City will have Georgetown, UCLA and Georgia.
There’s a Crossroads Classic game with Butler at Indianapolis’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse. That’s part of an annual rotation that also includes Notre Dame and Purdue.
Finally, the Big Ten rates as strong as any conference in the country.
“We have a very tough schedule as it is,” Crean says. “We’ll look at what will fit for us this year. At the same time, because there’s not a Kentucky series right now, we’ll make some plans for the future.”
Crean offers no update on what those plans (speculation has focused on Kansas and Louisville) will produce.