Nowhere are excuses more loathed than in the world of sports.
Everyone involved—especially fans and other supporters—seem to like it when players, coaches and managers stand up and take responsibility when something goes wrong. To do otherwise is simply bad marketing that will eventually leave an indelible stain on the team and those involved.
With that said, it’s time for those involved in Indiana University’s basketball team to stop bringing up the past as an excuse for their shortcomings.
I’ll be first to acknowledge that when Indiana University hired Tom Crean as its men’s basketball coach in April 2008, the program was a complete dumpster fire. It was nothing but smoldering ashes left by the Kelvin Sampson regime.
And I’m the first to applaud Crean for taking on the task of rebuilding the program and convincing recruits to believe in his vision. He has built this program into a national-title contender in four short (or long, depending on how you look at it) years. Crean has done an astounding job.
But the program, to Crean’s credit, is back. And every time something goes wrong, those involved in the program can’t say, “Hey, wait a minute, look where we’ve come from.” It’s time for the indignation to stop.
Case in point: Associate Head Coach Tim Buckley’s taking umbrage with a recent Wall Street Journal article calling last season’s team historic underachievers. I’m not here to say that’s the case, but when a college program has two of the top four NBA draft selections and doesn’t get past the NCAA tournament’s round of 16, I’d say there’s a case for it.
Yes, IU was 29-7 last year and won the school’s first outright Big Ten championship since 1993. And yes, all this happened just two seasons after the program was still stumbling through the post-Sampson fallout.
But the wheels also fell off this talented team late last year. Anyone remotely educated in the game of basketball could see that, and it’s time for Crean and his staff to step out of Sampson’s ugly shadow and own it. The team and its coaching staff looked thoroughly unprepared in a 61-50 loss to Syracuse University in the round of 16. Was Syracuse’s zone defense tough? You bet. Was it unsolvable? Not hardly. The truth is, IU didn’t look too terribly sharp in its round of 32 game.
Does any or all of this mean Crean and his staff are lousy? No, it does not. Have the wheels fallen off teams led by other big-time coaches, including Bob Knight? Absolutely.
But do IU’s stumbles late last year have anything at all to do with the misdeeds or damage done by Sampson back in 2007 and 2008? At this point, that’s a stretch.
Crean may be a victim of his own success. He’s pulled the Hoosiers back from the brink faster than anyone thought he would or could. But now that he has, he may truly realize the sky-high (some would say unrealistic) standards of IU officials, alums and supporters.
IU fans love a winner. And they won’t tolerate a loser. But first and foremost, they hate an excuse-maker. And who doesn’t?