NCAA BK

Hoosiers hoping to give Crean 1st winning season

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP)

Indiana coach Tom Crean spent the last three seasons pleading with fans to be patient.

After watching three straight losing records, those fans are anxious to see some better results.

''We realize that the time is now, and we don't have time to wait,'' junior forward Christian Watford said. ''We have some senior guys that want to get something done. So we don't want to send them out with a losing record or anything like that. The sense of urgency is definitely there.''

The Hoosiers don't have much of a choice.

If they don't win now, it will mark only the second time in school history that the men's team has endured four straight losing seasons. The other time: 1911-16, a dismal five-year span that came long before Indiana hung five national championship banners or employed Hall of Fame coaches Everett Dean, Branch McCracken and Bob Knight. In fact, only one other Indiana team, the 1970-71 Hoosiers, has faced this predicament and it went 17-7 to avoid the dubious distinction.

How tough have things been?

The school that once prided itself on sending every senior out with at least one Big Ten crown during Knight's tenure, doesn't have a single player on the roster with a postseason tournament win. And only one member of the coaching staff -- Calbert Cheaney -- has celebrated a winning season in Bloomington. Cheaney, the Big Ten's career scoring leader and 1993 national player of the year, is in his first season as director of basketball operations.

Yes, it's been a long, tough slog since a recruiting scandal gutted the program before Crean arrived, but the Hoosiers finally appear to be on the cusp of restoring some luster to the school's signature program.

For starters, they have experience.

''As veterans, we talk to the younger guys and push them through it,'' Watford said. ''When I came in, we didn't really have any veterans. We were kind of on the downside, I guess you could say. But we are the leaders now and the veterans and take on that challenge and that role.''

But perhaps the best indication of Crean's progression is that some key pieces are already in place.

Watford, last season's top scorer at 16.0 points, will again serve as the team's offensive cornerstone. The 6-foot-9 forward spent the summer getting stronger, something that should help him bang with the Big Ten's big bodies. Last season, Watford averaged 5.4 rebounds.

Jordan Hulls returns, too. The Bloomington native stayed home to help Indiana rebuild and last season emerged as the team's most consistent outside scorer. Doubling as a point guard and shooting guard, Hulls averaged 11.0 points and shot 41.4 percent from 3-point range.

Senior guard Verdell Jones, the newest member of Indiana's 1,000-point club, also is back. He averaged 12.5 points in 2010-11.

Plus, Crean can fill in the gaps with power forward Derek Elston, athletic guard Victor Oladipo, swingman Will Sheehey and center Tom Pritchard -- all upperclassmen with experience.

It should help even though the Hoosiers already have lost one key contributor, guard Maurice Creek, possibly for the entire season. Creek tore the Achilles tendon in his left leg when he fell down some stairs in early October.

''What he is dealing with today is one thing, but I have a strong feeling that he is going to come back in a big way because I have seen how his maturity and toughness have come to serve him through these first couple injuries,'' Crean said. ''I think he will do it again.''

Crean can also rely on what may go down as his best recruiting class yet.

Remy Abell and Austin Etherington were big-time scorers in high school and could make a difference this season. The prized pupil is Cody Zeller, Indiana's reigning Mr. Basketball and the most talented big man Crean has had in four seasons. At 6-foot-11, 230 pounds, Zeller has already gotten heavier and stronger, sending expectations soaring.

Zeller, whose older brothers chose Notre Dame and North Carolina, has only been on campus a few months.

But he already has a keen understanding of what the Hoosiers need to do this season -- win.

''I think everyone is just trying to prove that we are better than what our record was last year,'' he said. ''It is kind of like we have a chip on our shoulder that we are trying to prove that we are better than last year.''

Tagged: Indiana, Christian Watford, Will Sheehey

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