Eager Indiana fans embrace Saturday night start
Indiana turned a Saturday night warmup practice into a regular-season atmosphere.
Assembly Hall was almost full. The pep band played its usual repertoire of songs and fans repeatedly chanted the names of players and recruits. Even Eric Gordon and D.J. White, former Hoosiers now playing in the NBA, came back to Bloomington.
Fans were festive, loud and enthusiastic, just the kind of atmosphere coach Tom Crean needs to rebuild his home-court advantage this season.
''If we play close to as good as you cheer and support this team, we'll be cutting down nets very, very soon,'' Crean told the crowd, which responded with rousing applause. ''We're in our fourth year, and we've never had a start to the year where we've had fans on that balcony.''
A fun-filled night was the perfect remedy for a program that's been reeling since an NCAA scandal gutted the program after the 2007-08 season. Crean took over in April 2008, and it was expected to be his best season since coming to Bloomington.
But the Hoosiers are already off to a rocky start.
Starting guard Maurice Creek had surgery Monday to repair a torn Achilles tendon in his left leg. He could miss the entire season. It's his third major injury in 22 months.
The next day, the school announced Crean had committed a secondary NCAA infraction by contacting a recruit during a non-contact period. While the violation is considered small and will not have any additional impact on the Hoosiers' three-year probation, which ends Nov. 24, it did spark discussion among Hoosiers fans about what happened.
Later in the week, starting forward Christian Watford was seen with a walking boot over his injured right foot. It was still there Saturday.
But Indiana fans didn't care about those concerns. They were here to celebrate.
''Over time, they'll get that ironed out and straightened away,'' Jonathan Crowley of Evansville, Ind., said. ''There are some new people coming in and if you put the new people with the experience they've got, it could really be something positive.'' The crowd of 16,100 applauded loudly when Indiana's new director of basketball operations, Calbert Cheaney, was introduced. The former Hoosiers star is still the Big Ten's career scoring leader.
Crean received a standing ovation and fans laughed when Creek tried to do a few cautious dance moves on his crutches.
The opening night festivities took place one day later than most other college basketball programs, though Crean wanted it that way so he could give prized recruit Gary Harris a firsthand glimpse into Indiana basketball.
It was a remarkable sight.
Hundreds of fans lined up on the south end of Assembly Hall more than 2 1/2 hours before the men's players were even scheduled to take the court. Two lines snaked around the parking lot.
''I got the biggest bang driving by here today and seeing the kids lining up,'' television announcer Bill Raftery said before the workout began. ''I was like, 'Who are they playing tonight? Purdue?'''
If Harris had any doubts about how Indiana's players are revered, it didn't take him long to figure it out.
As Crean gave his introductory remarks, the students chanted Harris' name. When Crean started to speak again, he apologized for interrupting.
And if Harris thought it was a fluke, he could have talked to White or Gordon.
''Words can't describe (Hoosier Hysteria) until you really walk out there,'' White said. ''The four years I spent here were pretty special, so it always brings back great memories.''
He also could have spoken with the actual participants.
The women's team worked out for about 30 minutes before the men's team took the court.
Both teams held 3-point shooting contests, and the men's team also had a dunk contest. The basket at the north end was damaged during the contest, but that didn't stop the Hoosiers from holding a 15-minute intrasquad scrimmage.
Or fans giving newcomers a sense of theh environment they can expect at home games this season.
''This is my first time being it and I haven't even watched one. I think it was definitely great for me,'' freshman Remy Abell said. ''I expected it to be packed, but not that packed.''