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Cody Zeller recalls the time Jim Harbaugh convinced Tom Crean to buy a live bat

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The headline says it all

Big 10 Tournament John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Back in 2012, Tom Crean had a bat idea.

It was the first week of February, Indiana had just dropped a game at Michigan — its fifth loss in a seven-game span — and Crean’s brothers-in-law, Jim and John Harbaugh, were in Bloomington for a visit. With a weekend trip to Purdue on deck, Crean believed his Hoosiers needed a kick in the pants. So he asked the Harbaughs to swing by practice and talk to the team.

Appearing on an episode of the Titus & Tate podcast Tuesday, former IU All-American Cody Zeller recounted the absolutely batshit insane series of events that followed:

“Both of them talked to us,” Zeller said, “and both of them are high-strung, a little crazy. So they both talked to us for 15 or 20 minutes. After each of them talked, it was like you’d run through a wall for those two. I can’t remember if it was Jim or John talking about how they tell their players to be mean and nasty, like rabies-filled, blood-sucking bats. He kept on going on and on about how we needed to be nasty bats. The other went and was talking about not being a murderer, but a serial killer because serial killers know what they’re going to use to kill the person, what they’re going to do with the body, all this stuff. So he was like, ‘You need to have a plan and execute the plan. We tell our players you need to be like serial killers.’ It was like, ‘These dudes have lost their minds.’

“But it was really, really well said, super energetic and you’d run through a wall for either of these two. ... So pregame comes along and Coach Crean pulls out these bats. Obviously, not a live bat, because he couldn’t pull it off. But he has these plastic toy bats. It was like his big motivational thing to tie it all together.”

Crean, though, really, really wanted to bring a live bat into the locker room to fire up the boys. He said as much during a 2017 appearance on Pardon My Take, crediting Jim Harbaugh for planting the idea in his head.

“We looked (and asked) what would we have to do to bring a bat,” Crean said. “We knew we couldn’t handle it ourselves. We’d need a bat trainer or Batman or somebody. I was willing to pay! I’d pay for it. There’s no question we checked into it, but what we found were some plastic vampire bats. So we bought about a dozen of them.”

Defeated in his quest to acquire a real, blood-thirsty bat, Crean settled for the plastic versions and tossed them around the locker room during a pregame meeting. Incredibly, it worked! (Editor’s note: Yep, it was definitely the bats!) Zeller and Victor Oladipo combined for 39 points and the Hoosiers ran away with a 78-61 victory at Mackey Arena. It was the start of a prosperous, late-season run for IU, which won seven of its final eight games of the regular season and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.

“Jim and John get tremendous credit,” Crean said. “We went on a great run and the vampire bats, they were the reason.”

Just imagine what the Hoosiers could’ve done with a real bat or two.