A year ago today, April Fool's Day, was an unusual day for IU fans. That afternoon, a rumor spread across the Internet that UNLV coach Lon Kruger, formerly of Illinois, Florida, and the Atlanta Hawks, would be IU's new coach. It was unclear whether this was a real story or a misunderstood April Fools joke, and it was similarly unclear, not long after, when the Tom Crean news leaked, whether there was anything to it. IU fans soon learned that it was true, and Crean was introduced as IU's coach on April 2. Crean said this at his introductory press conference:
"This was a heart decision," Crean said, his voice cracking. "This was not a business decision or a legacy decision. I'd had other opportunities to walk away (from Marquette), and none of them felt like this. I'm going to miss those people a lot, but I'm excited to be here."
Crean's statement was prescient, considering that at the time he was introduced, Armon Bassett and Jamarcus Ellis were in limbo, but Jordan Crawford, Brandon McGee, Eli Holman, and Deandre Thomas remained in the fold, and Tom Pritchard and Matt Roth were expected to enroll. While IU was losing DJ White, Eric Gordon, Lance Stemler, and Mike White, and seemed unlikely to retain signees Devin Ebanks and Terrell Holloway, Crean could have been excused for thinking he had a bubble team. Instead, Crean discovered that the academic and behavioral situation was worse than could have been imagined, and soon the entire roster was gone, and only Crawford left voluntarily. On April 1, 2008, as ugly as the end of the Sampson era was, it would have been hard to anticipate what the 2008-09 season would hold. By the time June rolled around, it sure looked like a "heart" decision, one that couldn't have been made logically.
Crean, a guy who plainly hates to lose, found himself starting from scratch. If there was any knock on Crean as he took the IU job, it's that he's a fairly intense, hot-tempered guy. I'm sure that he is, but he certainly handled this team with dignity and the appropriate amount of patience. On a few occasions, when IU lost particularly close games, Crean went out of his way to encourage the players for their effort. He seemed genuinely moved by the fan support. Most importantly, his team, despite what must have been a soul-sucking experience, never quit and played hard in nearly every game. Ultimately, Crean won't be judged by his 6-27 season. He will be judged by his performance in seasons in which IU is expected to contend for the Big Ten or NCAA title. But if his future teams, all of which should be more talented and experienced than this one, play with as much toughness and commitment and this one, Crean should add his own name, and those of many of his players, to the long list of IU legends. Thanks for year one, Coach, and we're looking forward to the future.