Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A candy-striped unraveling

Those banners. What do they whisper, when Assembly Hall is quiet and the man who bears their weight is alone with the echoes and empty seats?

Surely Tom Crean must hear this, in the half-light: You were hired to set this right.

Surely he also hears this: Now set it right.

The man whose every waking minute has been devoted, consciously and otherwise, to chasing the ghost of Kelvin Sampson out of Assembly Hall must be dying inside a little right now. Because the ghost is back, suddenly.

Four misadventures with alcohol or other substances since February, involving almost half of Crean's Indiana basketball team, have undone much of Crean's earnest work to restore to the program honor and decency and, yes, respect for the banners. And it's amped up the temperature of the seat he occupies from cool comfort to about 500 degrees ... Kelvin.

Because, listen, how can you not see that ghost again, sitting high up in the shadows in the Hall? First one Indiana player, driving legally drunk and underage, puts another player in the hospital with a head injury. Then two more players -- one of whom (Troy Williams) started every game last year -- show red in a drug test. Throw in a couple of previous drinking-related arrests (including one involving Crean's presumptive team leader, Yogi Ferrell), and suddenly this is the Sampson years all over again, or at least a glancing proximity.

Granted, that characterization is probably unfair on some level. Crean, as far as we know, hasn't thumbed his nose at the NCAA rulebook the way Sampson did. And he landed on the latest miscreants hard, suspending Williams and Stanford Robinson, the other player who showed red, for four games. But the perception remains that his program is edging toward the same out-of-control orbit as Sampson's, and away from the orbit imposed by both Crean and those  banners hanging at one end of the Hall.

They represent both five NCAA titles and a certain standard of conduct, and nothing about that is negotiable. They were what compelled Crean to say, upon arriving in Bloomington, that the reason he came was because, "It's Indiana." They were what allowed him to do that with no further explanation, because no further explanation was necessary. And they were what compelled him to bring back the candy-striped warmups and invite back into the fold all the former players, because the former players represented a history that Crean was all too eager to embrace.

And now?

Now he either embraces it again or he has to go. Now he either gets control of his program, or Indiana must, as it did when it sent Sampson packing and hired Crean, find someone who can and who will.

Because Crean was right, back there at the beginning of this. It is Indiana. And those banners are merciless in their judgment.

You were hired to set this right, they're whispering.

Now set it right.


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