Eager Indiana fans embrace Saturday night start

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BLOOMINGTON, IND. (AP) - Indiana turned a Saturday night warmup practice into a regular-season atmosphere.

Assembly Hall was almost full. The pep band played its usual repertoire of songs and fans repeatedly chanted the names of players and recruits. Even Eric Gordon and D.J. White, former Hoosiers now playing in the NBA, came back to Bloomington.

Fans were festive, loud and enthusiastic, just the kind of atmosphere coach Tom Crean needs to rebuild his home-court advantage this season.

“If we play close to as good as you cheer and support this team, we’ll be cutting down nets very, very soon,” Crean told the crowd, which responded with rousing applause. “We’re in our fourth year, and we’ve never had a start to the year where we’ve had fans on that balcony.”

A fun-filled night was the perfect remedy for a program that’s been reeling since an NCAA scandal gutted the program after the 2007-08 season. Crean took over in April 2008, and it was expected to be his best season since coming to Bloomington.

But the Hoosiers are already off to a rocky start.

Starting guard Maurice Creek had surgery Monday to repair a torn Achilles tendon in his left leg. He could miss the entire season. It’s his third major injury in 22 months.

The next day, the school announced Crean had committed a secondary NCAA infraction by contacting a recruit during a non-contact period. While the violation is considered small and will not have any additional impact on the Hoosiers’ three-year probation, which ends Nov. 24, it did spark discussion among Hoosiers fans about what happened.

Later in the week, starting forward Christian Watford was seen with a walking boot over his injured right foot. It was still there Saturday.

But Indiana fans didn’t care about those concerns. They were here to celebrate.

“Over time, they’ll get that ironed out and straightened away,” Jonathan Crowley of Evansville, Ind., said. “There are some new people coming in and if you put the new people with the experience they’ve got, it could really be something positive.” The crowd of 16,100 applauded loudly when Indiana’s new director of basketball operations, Calbert Cheaney, was introduced. The former Hoosiers star is still the Big Ten’s career scoring leader.

Crean received a standing ovation and fans laughed when Creek tried to do a few cautious dance moves on his crutches.

The opening night festivities took place one day later than most other college basketball programs, though Crean wanted it that way so he could give prized recruit Gary Harris a firsthand glimpse into Indiana basketball.

It was a remarkable sight.

Hundreds of fans lined up on the south end of Assembly Hall more than 2 1/2 hours before the men’s players were even scheduled to take the court. Two lines snaked around the parking lot.

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