Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A little help-side D, please

So now the punchline, on the occasion of what seems to have become a regular summer thing: Just call 'em the Booze-iers.

This upon the news that once again alcohol has made certain underaged college kids at Indiana University do dumb stuff, namely get caught with alcohol. Again it was two IU basketball players; this time the culprits were Emmitt Holt and blue-chip freshman Thomas Bryant, who were nabbed by excise officers trying to hide bottles of vodka while sitting in a car in a convenience story parking lot.

Holt's involvement is particularly egregious, given that this is the second time he's turned up in an alcohol-related incident in the wee hours. Bryant's involvement is particularly dismaying, given that he's Tom Crean's ticket to a better life -- i.e., he's the inside presence whose absence was the only thing that kept Indiana out of March Madness' swankier districts last spring.

Or so the theory goes.

The other theory out there now is that isolated incidents have become a ruinous culture within the IU program, and Crean needs to be called to account for it. Lack of institutional control is a hammer the NCAA wields with unbecoming ease when the occasion calls for it; lack of institutional control surely has become an issue with Crean's program, and one which athletic director Fred Glass must seriously consider now that five alcohol or drug-related incidents -- involving Holt, Bryant, Devin Davis, Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Stanford Robinson, Troy Williams and Yogi Ferrell -- have stained the program in the last year-and-a-half.

Or so the theory goes.

My theory?

This isn't about Crean. Ultimately, it's about his players.

Ultimately they're the ones who must take ownership of the program, who must take to heart what basketball at Indiana means and what it should continue to mean. Those five national championship banners swaying in the air currents at one end of Assembly Hall may set the standard, but they're worthless swatches of fabric unless breathing human beings choose to maintain that standard. What they represent is merely a dead past without someone to carry it forward.

In this, there is only so much a head coach can do, and Crean has done it. Curfews have been imposed. Suspensions have been handed down. Mosquera-Perea and Davis were kicked off the team. Holt, as a two-time offender, is likely to be next. What a head coach can do, outside of babysitting 15 college-age men 24/7 or locking them in their rooms, Crean has done.

Now it's up to the players.

Now it's up to the players who aren't getting caught in parking lots with vodka bottles to call a meeting, close the door and say "This (bleep) has to stop." To point fingers. To call out who needs to be called out. To remind everyone, and not gently, what's being put at risk here.

Quinn Buckner filled that role, once upon a time. Innumerable others have across the years. That no one yet has filled it for this team -- at least not effectively -- is something for which you can blame Tom Crean. It is the one thing for which he is most indictable, because he's the one most responsible for the team he puts together.

Something vital seems missing in this one. Maybe that's an unfair assessment, but that's how it looks from outside the ropes.

Listen. College kids have been getting nicked for underage drinking forever, and college kids always will. But a different standard applies to those kids who have been hired to feed the corporate maw of big-time college athletics. And it's up to the ones who recognize that to set straight the ones who don't.

Those banners can't sustain anything by themselves. But they are useful reminders sometimes, especially in cases such as this.

And so, as the architect of three of those banners used to preach: A little help-side defense, if  you please.



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