Indiana Basketball: Season Just the Beginning
As the final seconds ticked away on Indiana University's season, this is the sound that the players heard.
To outside observers, this may have seemed strange indeed. And these observers would, in almost any other instance, be vindicated in viewing it that way.
This Hoosiers team was, quite possibly, the worst team in the program's proud history. In the direct aftermath of the Kelvin Sampson debacle, the Hoosiers returned two players who had combined to score a total of 21 points during the 07-08 season.
The team, with a roster consisting of five true freshmen, one senior, and six walk-ons, saw itself with the youngest team in modern Big Ten history. This inexperience, along with the general lack of athleticism, became evident early on, and continued to show throughout the season.
Their record, 6-25, was their worst in 93 years. In conference play, the team's one win was the worst ever compiled by an Indiana team.
Along with blowout losses to Notre Dame, St. Joseph's, and Wake Forest, they lost home contests to teams such as Northeastern and Lipscomb.
Through tireless hustle however, and a never say die attitude, this team grew to be loved by the whole Indiana fan base. As the season progressed, the growth of the team was evident. Play-makers of the future, such as Verdell Jones III, started to emerge.
To the fans, this team's players represented all that Indiana should be. Though they lacked the talent Hoosier fans were used to, they played for one thing: the name on the front of the jersey.
Though this season was a difficult one, for many of the players it was also a dream season. For players such as the manager-turned-player Mike Santa, there was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to play for Indiana University. Sitting in front of his locker after the season ending loss to Penn State, Santa said while still dressed in full uniform, "I'm going to leave it on as long as I can," clutching his jersey in his hands.
These players went through one of the most difficult seasons ever seen. They faced hardships caused by factors of which they had no control. In a season completely destroyed by one man's mistakes, many put in one such position would have given up, mailed in the season, and gone home.
But, taking on the mantra of their coach, these Hoosiers refused to give up. They worked as hard as they could, and played many of the best teams in their conference down to the wire. Through it all, they stuck together, and persevered.
With Tom Crean's enthusiasm, and never ending energy, the Indiana program is looking up. Along with the valuable experience that this years players received for next season, Crean has lined up a recruiting class ranked in the top ten by every ranking system in the country. With players such as the ones from this season, and more on the way, it looks as if IU will be back.
Yes, to many it would seem quite peculiar that, as the worst season in IU's history came to a close, there would be applause.
But to the fans of Indiana basketball, and those who are familiar with it, nothing else would have seemed fitting.
Because they know, as did those fans that evening at Conseco Fieldhouse, this was only the beginning of the dawn of a new era in the storied tradition of Indiana University basketball.
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