When Tom Crean was introduced as the next head coach of Indiana University's basketball program, I was a freshman living in Forest's B-Tower. I always note I was in B-Tower because anyone else that was around that dorm in the autumn of 2007 knows it was one of the hottest on record in Bloomington and B-Tower was still without central air conditioning, unlike our neighbors in the A-Tower. I always envied them, waking up every morning not drenched in their own sweat.
I'd often cross paths with a girl from A-Tower who I knew previously from a camp I had worked at before enrolling at Indiana. She lived in A-Tower, so naturally the air conditioning discrepancy came up a lot in our encounters. The fact she could get through a day without having to change her clothes two or three times was insulting to me, the nineteen-year-old who was currently living through the greatest struggle of his privileged life. I didn't have a lot of t-shirts nor a great passion for laundry; something was going to have to give.
By the time Tom Crean made it to Bloomington in the spring of 2008 (which was also hot as hell) someone had already printed them- crimson t-shirts with cream lettering emblazoned with CREAN & CRIMSON across the chest. He held one up in his press conference and you could tell how excited he was to be here. That excitement was infectious. Of course, it didn't hurt that he was bringing that excitement to a campus so hopelessly desperate for anything positive to happen to its storied basketball program, a storied basketball program that had been brought to its knees.
So having effectively destroyed a fair amount of t-shirts that year, I resolved to leave my dorm the next morning and walk to the bookstore, snatching up my own Crean & Crimson shirt and put it on when I got back. I was so excited. Everyone was so excited. Everyone knew there was a long road back, but we were all ready for it.
Thousands of words have been written on what Tom Crean did and didn't do for Indiana University both on this blog and elsewhere. I'm not going to dissect his tenure for the seemingly millionth time. As a sports-averse child growing up, I don't have clear memories of Indiana basketball before I matriculated. It's not at all untrue to say that every great (and bad) moment I've experienced as a fan has been orchestrated, directly or indirectly, by Tom Crean.
This isn't an endorsement. This isn't evidence that Fred Glass did the wrong thing. I was 12 when Bob Knight was fired and if I happened to be watching Indiana athletics on television- I was probably watching football. Until last week, Tom Crean was Indiana basketball for me. I'm only peripherally aware of it existing without him, if I'm being honest. I've never known the glory of Indiana basketball, I've only known the struggle to get back there. The 2002 National Title game occurred while I was on vacation in Florida. I barely recall being in the room with my dad who was watching. I think I fell asleep! Basketball just wasn't my thing. My thing was, like ... playing Mario Party.
So thank you, Tom Crean, for literally every clear memory I have about this team that I (finally) fell hard and fast for when I arrived on campus just in time to watch the program implode. I remember paying $5 to sit in the balcony and watch us struggle against Penn State in Year 1, and how back-to-back home wins over Illinois and Minnesota in Year 3 felt like a massive turning point. I hope I never forget how much fun came with Year 4 and the title run in Year 5. I remember how hilarious it was to beat Wisconsin in Year 6, probably the most inexplicable win of your tenure. I remember being back in that balcony in Year 7, watching us obliterate Maryland in what felt like a return to form.
And then Year 8, possibly the most fun I've had in a college basketball season. From a miserable trip to Maui to an outright conference title and beating Kentucky in the Big Dance. I'll talk about that season until I'm dead. I'll be some crazy old geezer sitting on a rocker babbling about being down double digits in the Crossroads Classic and how that UNC three-point shooting performance was a statistical anomaly that should be investigated.
It's almost incomprehensible what has happened to me, personally, in those nine years, despite the fact I lived them. That girl bragging about her air conditioning? I married her. We have an eight-month-old that I'm desperately trying not to awaken as I hammer this out on my laptop. I've earned two degrees, moved far away from Indiana, and then all the way back. Tom Crean didn't bring Indiana basketball back into the spotlight until I was far gone from Bloomington, but that magical season that began with Watford's buzzer beater and ended with the program's first Sweet Sixteen berth in a decade made a displaced and discouraged Hoosier down in Miami feel like he had never left.
I'll always be grateful for that.
Tom Crean poured his heart and soul into a program that had neither when he got here. Maybe he could have pulled us out of the skid next season, we'll never know, but I'll always believe he was exactly who this program needed in that spring of 2008. And I hope I never forget that.
I don't know what Indiana Basketball is going to be like without Tom Crean. I don't know if I'll be running down to a bookstore to buy a t-shirt with a catchy slogan on it. I don't know that I'll feel the same sense of excitement I felt that day nine years ago- the feeling that the program was doing the right thing moving forward and a return to glory was on its way.
But I do know that the road back is not near as daunting as it once was, and that's because Tom Crean took us most of the way already.