Tom Crean as minister. Maybe it’s in his future. Maybe. The guy has, after all, sworn off swearing. He can raise the passion in a room, even a room as large as IU Auditorium.
While the auditorium wasn’t packed for his annual talk to IU students and others who live the Cream ‘n Crimson dream on Thursday night, there were plenty there who sought insight into the state of Hoosier basketball.
And Crean spoke with a minister’s fervor, mixing in basketball with the value of family, the value of education, the value of his wife (Joani) and the importance of helping others and making IU a better place. There was music (courtesy of the IU pep band) and video (yes, Christian Watford's Kentucky beating three-pointer received prominent display) and insight into the difference between motivation and inspiration (believe us, it matters).
But basketball was the reason for the crowd and, yes, Crean delivered, even drawing a standing ovation.
He said that Cody Zeller and Will Sheehey were the two most improved Hoosier players on a team where everyone has improved.
Given Zeller was an All-America who would have been a lottery pick if he had entered the NBA draft last spring, that’s impressive.
And speaking of impressive, Sheehey has become, if you believe in VO2 measurements, the fittest player in IU basketball history. The VO2 test has been administered at IU for decades as a way of measuring fitness. Basically, you get on a treadmill and push yourself until your body caves.
Back in the 1970s, Hoosier player Jim Thomas set the standard by going 13 minutes. No one had approached that mark until this summer, when guard Jordan Hulls lasted 12 minutes and 36 seconds. Crean called it “the best of the modern era.”
And then Sheehey obliterated it by going 14:06 and then jumping off without fatigue forcing him to.
“The guys who were there were convinced he could have gone another minute,” Crean said. “That’s what has to happen.”
Crean said there were three keys for the Hoosiers reaching their potential, which if you believe the preseason polls and publications, means at least a Final Four appearance, if not a national championship.
They have to get stronger, get better on fundamentals and get better defensively.
“Our strength has to be better, and there are ways to test that,” Crean said. “There’s the bench press, the leg squat, chin-ups.
“On the VO2 test, our guys had good numbers last year, but this year the numbers are taking off. It’s an endurance test. It’s a how-much-can-you-take test. We had a couple of guys take it to another place.”
A student asked Crean about the dropped Kentucky series. A series that had been played since the late 1960s was dropped when neither side could agree on a location. IU wanted to keep it on a home-and-home basis. UK wanted to move it to Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium.
Crean said an idea was floated about a series involving Indiana, Kansas, Duke, Kentucky, Louisville and some ACC teams, but that didn’t work out. He said IU is working on a home-and-home series with another “high-level” opponent.
As far as Kentucky, Crean said “We’ll wait for them to come to their senses” about a home-and-home series. “It’s up to them. I think it will turn and become a home and home… In our lifetime, they’ll be back here.”
Crean said IU will start a freshman and that freshman Yogi Ferrell and senior Jordan Hulls will make a good backcourt.
Crean said a lot more – and we’ll detail that in our next blog.