Indiana b-ball programs back on track

December 8, 2008
With both the NBA and college basketball seasons under way, Indiana's two namesake programs are coming back to life in a big way.

And I'm not talking about win-loss records.

The Indiana Pacers and the Hoosiers of Indiana University have been in the same boat in recent years, and it's been sinking.

For various reasons, the quality of both teams' players and play has suffered drastically, and their reputations and support have followed suit. But what's important now is that both organizations have made the necessary changes to turn things around. There's a long way to go, but the results are starting to show.

Things began to go downhill for the Pacers after Reggie Miller's retirement. The soul of the team died and its performance on and off the court deteriorated to levels that left even longtime fans disgusted.

Enter new Head Coach Jim O'Brien, Jim Morris and newly hands-on co-owner Herb Simon, and things began to happen. Along with President Larry Bird, the Pacers finally spit out their "bad seeds" and began to emphasize team and community spirit again.

The marketing has a whole new flair, and the team — still young and newly organized — is already showing signs of promise, with at least one bona fide superstar, Danny Granger, in the making.

There's excitement in the air again at Conseco Fieldhouse.

At IU, the waning years of coach Bob Knight's career led to a period of both uninspired and questionable leadership and selfish play on the court. We all know the details, but the bottom line is that IU basketball hit a new low on every level. Even former players disavowed the program.

Enter new Head Coach Tom Crean. I can tell you firsthand that Crean is the real deal. He is the man who will lead the IU basketball program from the wilderness back to the Promised Land, especially with Fred Glass at the helm of the Athletic Department.

IBJ hosted Crean at a breakfast last month attended by 400 people, 95 percent of whom turned out to be IU alumni. The coach gave a 15-minute speech and took questions for 30 minutes.

The guy knows his basketball stuff and has the energy and commitment (and contract, I might add) to rebuild the Hoosiers for the long haul. More important, he has the values to build a team we will be proud of.

I asked the coach if he'd talked to Bird, Morris or Simon about the Pacers' situation and if he'd learned anything from them that might help him, or vice versa.

Turns out he's talked to Morris a lot, is a big fan of Jim O'Brien, and has had conversations with the Pacers' marketing consultant about the strategies the Pacers are using to revive the team's image.

He said he had also asked Bird to write a letter to his Hoosier team about what it takes to win. Cream got his letter, and it's hanging in the locker room in Assembly Hall.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, I was lucky enough to sit courtside during IU's win over Cornell and see Crean in action. During the game, the man never sat down. He coached and inspired his team from beginning to end.

Before the game started and the band struck up "The Star-Spangled Banner," Crean glanced at his team and said under his breath, "Hands on your hearts." They all responded.

After the game, he sent the team down to thank the band and student boosters in the stands.

While they were doing that, Crean worked the crowd. He walked the entire perimeter of the court, making eye contact with the fans, applauding their efforts, and thanking them for coming out to the game.

There's definitely a new excitement in the air in Assembly Hall.

Wins aren't coming easily for either IU or the Pacers. But both programs seem to have regained their souls. If that's really the case, the wins will follow.

Source: XMLAr01000.xml

Recent Articles by Chris Katterjohn

Comments powered by Disqus