All of this for a school that hasn’t been to a postseason tournament since 2008 and has two other in-state programs getting more attention _ No. 19 Purdue and defending national runner-up Butler.
Part of Crean’s struggle was reminding players of exactly what the Indiana tradition is. Despite having the third-most national titles and the second most Big Ten crowns (20), the Hoosiers have reached only two Final Fours since 1992 and haven’t won an outright league title since 1993.
Zeller said that has affected how recruits view Indiana.
“They remember 2002,” Zeller said, referring to the Hoosiers’ last appearance in the NCAA title game. “But I think they remember more about the current stuff because it’s fresh in their mind and when they think of Indiana over the last few years, they think of it as a mess.”
So what has changed at Indiana?
“Certainly Cook Hall is a big deal,” Crean said, referring to the school’s new state-of-the-art practice facility. “But there are so many things you can sell at the university. The bottom line is that people are seeing the proof and believe that the program is going to get back to where we want to see it.”
Put Zeller in that camp.
This year’s Mr. Basketball favorite said that while he’s impressed with Crean and the facilities in Bloomington, he made his choice based on the progression he’s seen on and off the court.
“There were coaches and players and they had a lot of things going on behind the scenes, it was just a mess,” Zeller said. “Now they’ve got it going in the right direction.”
Crean won just six games in his first season, 2008-09. Last year, he won 10 _ half of what Hoosiers fans expect in a mediocre season. Even as attendance figures continued to put Indiana among the national leaders, some season-ticket holders began questioning publicly whether Crean was the right man for the job.
Those critics have now vanished.
Just one month into the season, the Hoosiers have won nearly half as many games as they did in Crean’s first two seasons combined. Yes, they are piling up victories against a soft schedule, and that’s by design because Crean understands that his job is nowhere close to finished.
“I think they’re gaining confidence,” he said. “There’s more competition now, and there’s a real like for one another, which I think came out in our recruiting. And they are getting better, but it’s a long, long season.”
And a long, long rebuilding project for everyone involved.
(This version CORRECTS surname of of recruit Ferrell in 14th paragraph.)