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Hoosiers pick Marquette's Crean as head coach

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

By MICHAEL MAROT

AP Sports Writer

BLOOMINGTON -- Apparently, Tom Crean enjoys restoration projects.

After spending nine years putting Marquette back on the national map, Crean has taken on a more daunting task: Rebuilding Indiana's legacy.

Crean accepted the Hoosiers job Tuesday, jumping straight into the tumultuous environment of player dissatisfaction, another coaching change and an uncertain future because of possible NCAA sanctions that occurred before Kelvin Sampson's resignation. Crean signed a letter-of-intent with the university, flew into Bloomington on Tuesday night and is expected to be introduced as the new coach during a Wednesday morning news conference.

"Coach Crean has brought pride, honor and a winning mentality to our men's basketball program," Marquette officials said in a statement released by the university.

Indiana needs Crean to instill those same traits in a program desperately in need of a turnaround.

Last season was one of the darkest in Hoosiers history, despite their 25-8 record.

The Hoosiers' promising start got lost in the undercurrent of Sampson's phone-call scandal, which led to NCAA allegations of five major infractions and his Feb. 22 resignation.

That's when things got ugly.

Six players skipped Dan Dakich's first practice and there was the threat of a player boycott. When that didn't happen, the Hoosiers lost their zeal to play, dropping four of their last seven games, including a first-round game to Arkansas in the NCAA tournament.

Losses were the least of the problems.

Earlier Tuesday, Dakich kicked two players -- starting guards Armon Bassett and Jamarcus Ellis -- off the team for missing a scheduled appointment last week. Neither Bassett nor Ellis, who also was suspended for one game by Dakich in March, showed up the next day to fulfill their punishment of running laps.

And now, with potentially all five starters gone from last year's team, the Hoosiers, of course, still expect to win.

Welcome to Bloomington, coach.

"I think he's a great choice," university trustee Philip Eskew said after confirming the hiring. "He has a Big Ten background, a Midwest background, he's recruited in the state of Indiana and he has an impeccable record, so I think Indiana is on the road to recovery."

For most Indiana fans, the rehabilitation can't come quickly enough. Dakich and Ray McCallum, promoted to assistant head coach after Sampson's resignation, were already cleaning out their offices Tuesday night.

Dakich is unsure where he will be next season even though the university has offered to keep him at Indiana in some capacity next year.

Crean's first task is to clean up Indiana's now sullied image.

The Hoosiers have not been found guilty of a major NCAA infraction since 1960, and the circus-like environment that ensnared the program during the final part of the season and lingered into the offseason has been an embarrassing scar on the state's most revered program.

Crean's second task will be putting together some semblance of a roster.

Starting forwards D.J. White and Lance Stemler were both seniors, and it's uncertain whether Ellis or Bassett will return. Another complication is the future of freshman Eric Gordon. The third-team All-American said Tuesday he would announce Monday whether he will enter the NBA draft. Most expect Gordon to leave school.

But those with ties to the school believe Crean can become the fix-it man Indiana needs.

"I think it's a very good move," said Jared Jeffries, a former Indiana star now playing for the New York Knicks. "He's proven himself to be a successful college coach at this level, a very good recruiter, recognize talent. That's who we need at Indiana, we need somebody who is going to be stable, a foundation for our future."

Plus, Crean must rebuild with one fewer scholarship, a result of the school's self-imposed sanctions for Sampson's impermissible phone calls.

Fortunately for Indiana, Crean's reputation as a strong recruiter may help him convince two of Indiana's signees for next season -- Terrell Holloway and Devin Ebanks -- they should still come to Bloomington. Both have requested to be let out of their national letters-of-intent, a clause Indiana inserted into their letters in case there was a coaching change.

Ex-Hoosiers believe he can succeed.

"I think he'll do a good job," former Indiana star and Minnesota Timberwolves coach Randy Wittman said. "I think he's going to do well. He's a quality coach."

Crean went 190-96 in nine seasons at Marquette. He leaves for a job that came open after Sampson's latest alleged missteps with the NCAA and joins a program still looking for a long-term successor to Bob Knight.

Since Knight's firing in September 2000, a move that sharply divided the fan base, fans complained Mike Davis didn't win enough, that Sampson stained the program and that Dakich wasn't a big enough name to take over. Crean will be Indiana's fifth coach this decade.

Athletic director Rick Greenspan also spoke with Washington State coach Tony Bennett, who said he was not interested, and the list of rumored candidates included names ranging from Rick Pitino and Tom Izzo to Butler's Brad Stevens and Wright State's Brad Brownell.

Crean ignored all the baggage and all the other names to join one of the nation's winningest programs despite the work it will take to restore that reputation. Of course, he's done it before.

"Coach Crean put Marquette back in the forefront of college basketball by embracing our strong tradition and building a competitive program for today," the statement from Marquette said. "The basketball program Tom has built is strong, with talented players and staff and solid university support."

Before taking over at Marquette, Crean spent four seasons as an assistant at Michigan State under Izzo, one year as an assistant at Pittsburgh and four seasons as a Western Kentucky assistant. He also was a graduate assistant at Michigan State in 1989-90.


AP Sports Writers Colin Fly and Chris Jenkins in Milwaukee, Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis and Andrew Seligman in Chicago also contributed to this report.



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