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Crean On Expectations, Recruiting, Parenting

Tom Crean holds up a shirt after being introduced as the new Indiana Hoosiers basketball head coach in Bloomington, Ind., in April.
Darron Cummings / AP
Tom Crean holds up a shirt after being introduced as the new Indiana Hoosiers basketball head coach in Bloomington, Ind., in April.

Indiana University head basketball coach Tom Crean spoke with Weekend All Things Considered host Andrea Seabrook on the court of Assembly Hall last month before the Hoosier Hysteria rally. Overhead swung five constant reminders of the pressures of his job — Indiana's national championship banners.

Crean: Certainly we can't take any credit for the banners that are up there. Just like we're not going to take any of the blame for the way things got over the last year or so. But we're just here to build onto an incredible tradition and just see where we can take it.

Seabrook: That's the thing. Tom Crean, why would you come here? And why would you come here now? You were the big man at Marquette. You did everything right.

Well, you know, I think there would be some fans that would disagree that we did everything right. I mean, we raised our family there. It was a great place to live. It was a great place to coach. But this was something that's been a part of my life and my mind since I was the age of 10, watching them beat Michigan in the '76 national championship game. So, Indiana to me has always been just different. And there's never been a time where I've regretted having an opportunity to be a part of this program.

Just to be clear for our listeners: You have two players back from last season. Those two have a combined 11 minutes' experience from last year. You've lost three scholarships temporarily. You can't recruit a great deal of talent. What do you do now?

Well, I think a couple things. First off, we can recruit. We've gotten through our self-imposed sanctions. And we've been able to put together, I think, a very good recruiting class. Now that's "on paper." That's how we feel about their character and their abilities. Obviously, they have to play into that as players. But I also feel good about the guys that we recruited in April and May and June and even into July.

Tell me about the recruiting part of your job.

Well, recruiting is ongoing. And one that's gotten a lot of attention in our circles is how early recruiting is.

I mean, these are kids.

There's no question. And it really hits me; I have an eighth-grade daughter. But we've also had a couple of eighth-graders here for football games to see the campus.

Eighth graders!

You have to start early or you're going to be behind. We have a 10th-grade commitment. I can't say his name publicly because he hasn't signed yet. It's part of the process. So what you do is you get a feel at a young age, you read the different scouting services, you call your network of friends, you get video ... and this is where recruiting is like business and human relationships in anything else ... there is no substitute for eye-to-eye, face-to-face, voice-to-voice contact. You have got to be able to get to know people. And certainly when we got here, that put us behind in a huge way.

As we're talking about eighth-, ninth-, 10th-graders — looking at their bodies, looking at their skill levels. I mean, it makes me think of the amount of pressure these kids are already under, and then to think of the kinds of things that your predecessor, Kelvin Sampson, was doing — the kids of out-of-bounds recruiting calls, a hundred of them that were illegal. I mean, how important are those rules to you coming in to this program?

Oh, they're extremely important. First off, you can't call these young players. Now, they can call you, OK? But you can't call them until they reach a certain age. So the pressure ... you know, you're exactly right. When you go to a sixth-grade game or a fifth-grade game, and you've got coaches or people saying, 'Yeah, this person we're playing against is ranked the 45th best fifth-grader in the country' — that's too much. And I see myself as a parent — I didn't know if we meant for this to get so philosophical, but I guess it has — I see myself as a parent with a 9-year-old son that participates in football and basketball and baseball and a daughter that wants to swim and be in acting. We've got to keep giving them an opportunity to compete. But we have to be so careful not to make it overbearing. But if you've got competitive people and they're going to succeed in a competitive world, they're going to put a certain amount of internal pressure on themselves. I don't think it's a bad thing to see that. I think it's a bad thing when you create a lot of pressure for them.

From my point of view, it almost feels like it would be a little sad to be one of the guys on this year's team because the expectations — I mean, all the news talks about is how low the expectations are. What do you do with that kind of team?

No one is gonna be allowed to feel sorry for themselves out on this court. I mean, it's not like we're gonna come out and not compete. And I hope our fans will get behind that. Because I know that as a head coach, I don't plan on being a real patient person. I plan on fighting. And I want to be able to know at the end of every day that we pushed guys past where they thought they could go. Not to a breaking point, but past where they thought they could go, and let's see what happens with it. But I have no doubt that we're going to get it back to a high level. It's just gonna take time.

How long?

I have no idea. I think there's no ... I've never been through anything like this. We're dealing with a brand new team in an incredibly competitive league that will show no mercy.

OK, finally, tell me your dream for this program. What would be the perfect scenario, working from ground level this year, over the next four or five years?

Well, I think at some point, to be in position to get the program to a contender level, which leads to a championship level. There's no question, you don't walk in and look at the banners every day without wanting to hang a couple yourself. So that's the ultimate. There's no question about it. And let's face it, we're gonna need a little luck. I mean, we're gonna need a crowd that will absolutely help us steal wins.

They call it Hoosier Hysteria for a reason.

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Andrea Seabrook
Andrea Seabrook covers Capitol Hill as NPR's Congressional Correspondent.