Tom Crean didn’t look like any of the other people in the Maui airport that day.
He had just coached his third, fourth and fifth games in his first season at Indiana. He looked how you would expect a coach to look after losing games by 38 and 26 points, then managing to beat Division-II Chaminade in the seventh-place game of the Maui Invitational by only two points. The Silverswords got off a possible game-winning 3-point attempt at the buzzer.
Others waiting for flights to the mainland on the day before Thanksgiving in 2008 were wearing leis and carefully carrying pineapples. Not Crean.
“This is going to take a while,” Crean said. “We can do it. This place has so much in so many ways.”
Not many people would have believed it then. They do now. Another step in the return of the fabled Hoosiers program came Friday as Crean is about to start his fifth season in Bloomington.
Indiana was ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press’ preseason Top 25, a first for the Hoosiers since 1979-80, when they were coached by Bob Knight and the 3-point line was still in the experimental phase.
The Hoosiers, who return all five starters including 7-foot sophomore Cody Zeller, received 43 first-place votes from the 65-member national media panel. Indiana is a preseason No. 1 for the third time.
Indiana’s other preseason No. 1 was in 1975-76 when the Hoosiers put together the last unbeaten run to a national championship.
Crean took over an Indiana program in 2008-09 that had plenty of history – five national championships – and a lot of current problems. Only two players returned from a team that was facing NCAA discipline over a phone call scandal that led to the ouster of coach Kelvin Sampson.
The program was back on the national scene last season when Christian Watford’s 3-pointer at the buzzer beat No. 1 Kentucky and the fans rushed the court at Assembly Hall. Three straight losing seasons seemed long ago as the Hoosiers added two more wins over teams ranked in the top five and got back in the NCAA tournament.
The top 5
1. Indiana (43); 2. Louisville (20); 3. Kentucky (2); 4. Ohio St.; 5. Michigan
• – See the pole in its entirety on B9