- Associated Press - Thursday, December 9, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, IND. (AP) - Tom Crean knows how far the Indiana program has already come.

He sees it every day at practice with the increased competition for playing time and now fans are starting to see the fruits, too.

Three years after inheriting a train wreck of a program, Crean finally has the Hoosiers playing more like, well, the Hoosiers people expect.

“They had a mess there,” recruit Cody Zeller said Wednesday night. “But, you know, it’s always been a great program.”

Few schools can match Indiana’s tradition, which includes five national titles, the last undefeated season in Division I men’s basketball, the winningest coach in men’s history and a parade of first-round draft picks.

But when he came to Bloomington, Crean inherited a team that had only two returning players, both walk-ons, and a school that saw it’s squeaky-clean image suddenly tarnished by the first major NCAA infractions case against it in nearly half a century. There were allegations of players using drugs and documented cases of players regularly skipping classes.

Indiana has not recovered completely, but Crean is clearly making progress.

For the first time since 2002, Indiana started 6-0 _ the longest winning streak of the Crean era. The Hoosiers have now won eight straight home games, another best under Crean, and take a 7-1 record into Saturday’s game at No. 17 Kentucky.

What really excites Indiana fans is Crean’s ability to win over recruits.

“I just know what Indiana is all about,” talented shooting guard Maurice Creek said, explaining his decision to leave the East Coast for the Midwest. “I think to come in and help rebuild this thing, that’s what it’s all about.”

Until last month, Crean’s biggest wins had come with out-of-state players like Creek, from Maryland; guard Verdell Jones, from Illinois; and small forward Christian Watford, from Alabama.

The exceptions were Jordan Hulls, an overlooked Bloomington native who won the state’s Mr. Basketball Award in 2009, and Derek Elston. Both have played key roles in the resurgence, and that has helped Crean rebuild Indiana’s recruiting presence in the talent-rich State.

Last month, Indiana won the year’s biggest in-state prize in getting Zeller. And once Indiana emerged as the favorite for Zeller, well, the parade to Bloomington started in earnest.

Highly touted forward Hanner Perea, who plays at a prep school in LaPorte, Ind., verbally committed to the Hoosiers in late October. Two weeks after Zeller’s announcement, highly rated Indianapolis Park Tudor point guard Kevin Ferrell said he would play at Indiana. They’ll form the nucleus of Crean’s 2012 recruiting class.

Indianapolis Cathedral forward Collin Hartman and Warren Central forward Devin Davis Jr. are already locked up for 2013, and, Indianapolis Tech forward Trey Lyles and Fort Wayne Luers shooting guard James Blackmon Jr., have already committed for 2014.

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