By MICHAEL MAROT
AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS -- Tom Crean insists he will fix Indiana's basketball program.
And one bleak season is not going to deter him.
Despite starting his tenure in Bloomington with a couple of dozen losses and the school's fewest wins in more than 90 years, Crean's unwavering optimism has the hopeful Hoosiers pondering better days.
"It's been difficult, I'm really not sure there are words that can express it because it's a very tough thing to go through," guard Devan Dumes said after Indiana's season-ending loss in the Big Ten tournament. "But we never gave up, we always fought people and we got through it. There have been a lot of stepping stones, and we've just got to get better."
Crean would expect to hear nothing less from next season's leaders.
After throwing out the old playbook and starting virtually from scratch, Indiana did find some building blocks. It has consistent scorers in Dumes, Verdell Jones and Nick Williams and a strong middle man in forward Tom Pritchard. There is Matt Roth, a solid 3-point shooter, and swingman Malik Story, who causes matchup problems for opponents.
That's just the start.
The returnees have a better understanding of what it takes to survive a 31-game season in the Big Ten, something that could certainly help Pritchard, who started strong but faded toward the end of the season.
Pritchard wants to get stronger so he can be effective from start to finish next season.
"It was pretty tough," he said. "There were a couple of days where I was real sore. We know what we went through this year, and we don't want to go through it again."
And there's more promising news on the horizon.
Guard Jeremiah Rivers, who sat out this season after transferring from Georgetown, will be eligible in the fall and Crean has already signed a strong recruiting class. Some rank the group among the nation's five best.
So Crean, the man who led Marquette to the Final Four, appears to have Indiana back on track, though the full restoration project may not be finished for a couple more years.
The danger: Fans may think next year's promise will lead to a quick fix.
"I want the guys that come in here to become part of the foundation-building of this program, not have anybody look at it like, well, now these guys are here, now we can go," Crean said. "No, we have to come together. We've had a lot of guys get better this year. And, hopefully, we'll get ourselves to a point where we have that consistent depth."
First, though, Crean must solve one problem.
After signing six players in the fall, he now has one more scholarship player than NCAA rules allow. Crean has not hinted at how he will resolve that.
Clearly, the influx of new talent will not guarantee immediate success, but additional bodies and more talent will help alleviate one of the biggest issues the undermanned Hoosiers (6-25) had this season, wearing down late in games.
But Crean believes it starts with some core principles: Working hard in the offseason, working hard in the classroom and staying out of trouble.
It would mark a big break from the scandal-plagued days of Kelvin Sampson's final year, which ended with a host of academic issues and rumors of drug use among players, and handcuffed Crean's first season from the start.
A clean start, more talent, depth and experience, give Crean reason to believe he can restore the luster to a program that owns five national championships and just went through arguably the worst season in its history.
"We've got to continue to build our athleticism, we've certainly got to build our strength," he said. "We'll maximize everything we can to help them have a great spring and, at the same time, keep them on the great track that they're on academically right now."