Crean pushing Hoosiers to keep improving
By MICHAEL MAROT
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) Tom Crean knows the Indiana Hoosiers can't afford to take too many breaks this summer.
Certainly not if they want to live up to their own expectations.
Four weeks after the Hoosiers completed their most successful season in a decade, Crean told reporters he's looking for improvement in three areas - getting stronger, becoming more consistent with head-to-head matchups and on defense.
"We're preaching quality, not quantity. We're preaching improvement, but most importantly we're preaching to the choir and they're hungry," Crean said. "I think this group right now is hungry because they've tasted it, because there's so much competition they can feel and absorb it. It gives them more room for growth."
At Indiana, that means things are finally getting back to normal.
The Hoosiers are coming off their first 20-win season in the Crean era and their first NCAA tournament regional semifinal appearance in a decade. They beat three top-five teams during the regular-season, the first time that had happened in school history, and they were unbeaten in nonconference play for the first time since 1989-90.
Now that Cody Zeller and Christian Watford have both decided to return to school, fans are expecting even bigger things when Crean welcomes one of the nation's top recruiting classes to campus next fall.
The lineup could be even stronger than expected.
Crean acknowledged that senior Matt Roth, a 3-point shooting specialist, is contemplating a return next season, and the Hoosiers believe oft-injured shooting guard Maurice Creek could be healthy this fall, too.
Creeks' freshman season ended prematurely because of a fractured left kneecap. The next year, he was diagnosed with a season-ending stress fracture in his right kneecap. Last year, Creek never even got started, tearing his left Achilles' tendon in October.
Crean is hopeful he Creek will make it back.
"Maurice has to become the hardest worker on the team and that's not who he's always been. He's got to be in the Victor Oladipo, Jordan Hulls mindset because he's not really playing yet," Crean said. "We have high expectations for him in-house. He's got to get his lower body stronger as it continues to heal up. He needs to continue to build his upper body strength, but he needs to get back to being one of the best shooters in the country, which is where he was heading before he got hurt the first time."
If Creek can return to form, a big if, the Hoosiers might emerge as the national championship contender some analysts predict.
But Crean insists he and his players are paying no attention to the outside pressure and instead are focused on using this offseason the same way they used last year's offseason - to make improvements.
"Outside expectations, they're fun to talk about. Every once in a while, they're fun to read about, but it has nothing to do with what's going on inside the building," Crean said. "If you start jumping ahead and end up getting caught up too much in the destination, you really do your team a disservice and no coach wants to do his team a disservice."
Crean addressed a range of topics during his 45-minute update.
He said it is unlikely the Hoosiers will face Louisville and Rick Pitino this season, though it's possible the two schools that are separated geographically by about a two-hour drive could reach a deal to play in the future. Crean said those talks are "nowhere."
The annual rivalry with Kentucky, though, could soon end if the two schools can't agree on where to play the games.
From 1991-2005, the games had been played at neutral sites in Indianapolis and Louisville. Then the games were moved back to campus. Now the Wildcats, Crean said, don't want to play in Bloomington, where Christian Watford beat them with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in December. It was Kentucky's only regular-season loss.
"The Kentucky game is still being talked about worked on, but it's not set in stone because, as many of you know, Kentucky doesn't want to play on our campus anymore and that's certainly not our first choice," Crean said. "Keeping it on campus is without a doubt our first choice and always has been since I've been here."
A spokesman at Kentucky said the school had no comment and said the Wildcats' schedule was still a work in progress.
Crean also said he hopes to hire a replacement for assistant coach Bennie Seltzer, who took the head coaching job at Samford earlier this month.
One possibility is promoting former Hoosiers star Calbert Cheaney, who was the director of basketball operations. Crean said the two have chatted and that if Cheaney is interested, he might get the job.
A week after reportedly offering a scholarship to Eric Gordon's younger brother, 14-year-old Eron Gordon, Crean acknowledged that recruiting players that young has become part of the college game. He did not speak specifically about the Indianapolis eighth-grader. NCAA rules prohibit commenting on recruits until they have signed a national letter-of-intent.
"We're far from the only school that's offering younger players," he said. "I think it needs to be a long process, and it doesn't mean there aren't going to be mistakes made," he added. "But it needs to be a long process because when it's a short process it doesn't always work out great."
Associated Press Sports Writer Colin Fly in Lexington, Ky., contributed to this report.
Updated April 25, 2012