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SPORTS: Maybe Crean can help IU fans turn the page

April 7, 2008

But a mess it is, one that won't be quickly eradicated.

And we all know how patient IU basketball fans are.

But an eight-year contract acknowledges that a quick fix is not the expectation. It also says-if those same fans are willing to listen-that the constant upheaval needs to be replaced by a consistency of voice-and excellence.

"Indiana has always stood for class ... integrity ... and for doing the right thing," Crean said.

Well, before it hired Kelvin Sampson, perhaps that was the case.

Anyway, congratulations to the muchcriticized blue ribbon committee. Led by Harry Gonso, the 10 members went about their task quietly and efficiently. They got a solid coach with a solid and-most important-squeaky clean record.

Still, as stated, Crean inherits a load of compost.

Other than the campus and coeds, it's not pretty in Bloomington.

"We're not going to be overwhelmed by the challenges," he said. "We're going to erase them. My eyes are wide open. We're going to deal with this head on."

But then he allowed reality to surface for a moment.

"It's probably a greater challenge than even I realize," he admitted.

You betcha.

By the time attitudes are either adjusted or shown the door and Eric Gordon stumbles into the NBA draft, IU could be down to a handful of scholarship players and feature Kyle Taber as its go-to player.

Personally, I don't care what it takes. Order needs to be restored.

Which brings me to words of praise for Dan Dakich.

Guarding North Carolina's Michael Jordan in 1984 was easy compared to the situation Dakich took over. He was greeted by a bunch of unhappy mutts who seemed to want to blame everyone except the man responsible, Sampson, for their circumstance. Through it all, Dakich kept his wits-and his wit-about him and embraced the role of head coach even as it became likely he would never get beyond the interim stage.

And in his last act, he had the guts to tell Jamarcus Ellis and Armon Bassett- both of whom had served in-season suspensions and neither of whom cloaked himself in glory as IU imploded down the stretch-that rules and discipline don't end when the season is over.

Dakich clearly has the best interests of his alma mater at heart. I hope he stays, even though the circumstances would seem awkward at best. And if Ellis and Bassett try to blackmail the program-they're evidently threatening to leave unless Dakich goes-then the response has to be, "Adios, fellas."

"Indiana basketball is bigger than any one person," Crean said.

Hold that thought, coach.

Beyond that, there remains the possibility of NCAA sanctions. Again, many believe the NCAA's committee on infractions is poised to drop the guillotine. I am hopeful it won't.

Meanwhile, Indiana desperately needs a uniter, not a divider. Crean must work this state and the alumni like Terry Hoeppner did. His enthusiasm at his press conference was palpable, and he touched all the right bases, citing everything and everyone from Kent Benson to Bob Knight to the candystriped warmup pants. That was a good start.

The Michigan native also will have to win over Indiana's high school coaches. He needs to keep the likes of Richmond's Dominic James in the state, rather than losing them to the Marquettes of the world.

Finally, let's hope Crean is the coach who can make IU fans stop living in the past. I hate to break it to some of them, but it's been 21 years since the last NCAA championship and there's been but one Final Four appearance in the last 15 years. This just in: Bob Knight really, really, really isn't coming back. Neither is Branch McCracken.

But, as Crean kept repeating, "It's

Indiana."

Well, it was Indiana. The present and future tense are in Crean's hands.



Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. To comment on this column, send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.
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