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Indiana takes new approach to challenging season

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


AP Sports Writer

BLOOMINGTON -- Kyle Taber spent last October sitting quietly secluded from reporters on Indiana's media day.

Back then, the Hoosiers were considered a Big Ten favorite, a possible Final Four team and there were plenty of other big-names to tell stories.

Oh, how things have changed for Taber and his brand new teammates.

"It's a lot different," he said Wednesday. "Everyone picked us to win it last year, now everyone is picking us last. But it's a good thing because there is no pressure on you, and we know what we have to do."

Like trading phone numbers and learning names, studying coach Tom Crean's scaled back playbook and getting acclimated to a different practice style.

It's not just a new season in Bloomington, it's a whole new era.

Crean begins his first season at Indiana in a rare predicament.

He has just nine scholarship players, four fewer than the NCAA limit, and only two, Taber and Brett Finkelmeier, survived the wholesale housecleaning that has rocked this once-impeccable program. Taber, a fifth-year senior, and Finkelmeier, a second-year walk-on, have a combined career total of 36 points and 57 rebounds.

By next month's season opener, nearly half of the roster could be walk-ons. Crean already has five on the roster, is still holding tryouts and may continue lobbying football coach Bill Lynch to send a couple of his players over to the basketball arena once the football season is over, too.

"Like most every program in the country, we're excited to get started," Crean said. "Unlike every other program in the country, we don't know what to expect."

Could it be any worse?

Perhaps. The NCAA is expected to issue its ruling on former coach Kelvin Sampson's phone-call scandal within weeks, and university officials appear to be bracing for additional sanctions after the university already imposed limits on recruiting calls and visits, took away one scholarship, gave up two more in anticipation of possible academic penalties and rooted out the entire coaching staff and almost all of the upperclassmen.

That's forced Taber into a new role.

"I have to teach these guys things," he said.

Fans believe this will be Indiana's worst season in years, and prognosticators seem to agree. Indiana finds itself in the almost unheard of position of being a near consensus choice to finish 11th in the Big Ten.

"It's not going to happen," Taber said as he deftly answered question after question. "We are going to do everything we can to make sure it doesn't happen."

The Hoosiers, however, look at the challenge as an opportunity for a fresh start.

Taber acknowledges there's more discipline in the program than last year, and junior college transfer Devan Dumes and Tijan Jobe will be asked to provide leadership and experience.

Freshman Tom Pritchard, one of two Sampson recruits who honored their commitment to Indiana, will play a major role inside where the Hoosiers have only three players taller than 6-foot-6.

And even the walk-ons are expected to make significant contributions.

But there's a bigger motivation this season than simply winning games.

"Coach Crean keeps harping on how we're not playing just for this team but for the past players," said freshman walk-on Kory Barnett. "We're trying to build it back and quiet the naysayers."

Crean now finds himself following his own advice -- be patient.

He's revised the practice schedules, simplified the playbook and is throwing out old philosophies to fit the situation. Then again, Crean really has no choice.

"They have to learn how to work," he said. "It's almost like becoming a professional where you have to learn that work ethic, that capacity for fatigue and how to get through that. I don't think we can come out and demand they go 3 or 3 1/2 (hours in practice). I think we have to build that up rather than taper down, like we usually do during the season."

And the message is clear.

Yes, this is still Indiana basketball, and Crean expects his players to represent the school the way players traditionally have even if it means making adjustments.

"I can promise you now that Anderson and Bemidji State are going to be important games," Crean said. "It's going to be fun to see if we can build that up."

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