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Indiana Basketball: 5 Most Important Traits Tom Crean Looks for in a Player

Scott HenrySenior Writer IIDecember 21, 2016

Indiana Basketball: 5 Most Important Traits Tom Crean Looks for in a Player

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    The qualities that make a successful coach are often reflected in the players he recruits. Indiana's Tom Crean is no exception.

    When Crean accepted the job in Bloomington, several changes had to be made immediately, leading directly to the undermanned 2008-09 roster that, at one point, famously boasted only two scholarship players.

    After a few seasons of rebuilding, Crean has the Hoosiers humming again by adhering to a few particular criteria.

    Here's a look at a few of the attributes it takes to become a Hoosier in the Crean Era.

Endless Motivation

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    As a player, Crean didn't progress much past high school benchwarmer. He carried no name value into his coaching career, merely a tenacious drive to prove himself and constantly improve.

    A man whose coaching career included a stint at a place called Alma College knows all about relentlessly climbing to the mountaintop, and he seeks that same desire in his players.

    In three seasons at Indiana, went from merely a gifted athlete and defensive pest to one of the most dangerous all-around players in America. A lightly heralded 3-star recruit turned into an NBA lottery pick through endless hours in the gym and film room.

    If one needs proof that anything is possible through hard work, Crean and Oladipo both provide it.


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    A tweet from last July illustrates Crean's perspective on the ways players carry themselves on the court.

    Body language is an underrated key in sports, something on which any halfway observant fan can pick up. The player clapping his hands and loudly exhorting his teammates can inspire confidence when a game seems to be slipping away.

    The player staring at the floor or gazing into space can produce a sense of dread in fans and exasperate his coaches.

    Occasionally, the laid-back nature of Christian Watford looked like flagging effort. Even this season, after a junior year that saw him lauded for one of college basketball's newest iconic shots, Watford had some stubborn moments. His 1-of-9 shooting effort against North Carolina was the only sour note in a dominant Hoosier victory.

    From there, however, Watford bought in. He had a string of 17 straight double-figure scoring games, 14 of them coming in Big Ten play. Only four times in Big Ten action did Watford rack fewer than five rebounds.

    If he wasn't going to be the star that his legendary shot and summer trip to the ESPYs seemed to indicate, at least the veteran forward was still willing to be part of what promised to be a famous team.

    IU players haven't ruffled feathers or made inflammatory statements very often since Crean took the job. He's more than happy to do the fighting for them.

Team Mentality

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    For many, the definitive sign that Indiana was again a national player was when Crean was able to keep blue-chip recruit Cody Zeller from following his brother to North Carolina.

    The talented younger sibling of two men who would see NBA playing time, Cody coming to Bloomington with a sense of entitlement would have been understood, if not appreciated.

    While Zeller was frequently the focal point of the offense, he was far from demanding. He took fewer than 10 shots in eight of IU's 18 Big Ten games. Efficiency-wise, Zeller wasn't up to the lofty standard he set in his freshman season, but his 119.4 offensive rating still ranked him sixth in the Big Ten, according to

    A couple of extra shots per night could have made Zeller a 20-PPG scorer. Would they have made IU better, though? That's debatable.

    Even McDonald's All-Americans need to consider what's best for the team if they're going to suit up for Tom Crean.


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    Yogi Ferrell, like Cody Zeller, was a McDonald's All-American whom Crean was able to keep within Indiana's borders. Another in-state point guard, Evansville Bosse's JaQuan Lyle, will need to learn to take direction in much the same way Ferrell is in this picture.

    Lyle spoke to IU blog The Hoosier Scoop earlier this month, discussing how Crean's recruiting tactics differed from other pitches he's heard during the process.

    “He told me a lot of stuff I didn’t want to hear,” Lyle said. “That was whenever I was first put into the rankings. My head was big, and when I had a meeting with him, it really brought me down and it humbled me. Now I am where I am.”

    Decision-making on the court and academic dedication off of it will need to be strengths of any potential Hoosier leader. Ferrell had his growing pains, and Lyle certainly will, wherever he ends up. The big head that Lyle describes, however, isn't likely to fly either with the IU coach or the IU fanbase.

    The team motto may as well be, "Check thy ego at the door, all who enter here."

"Do They Win?"

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    A quote from this Sports on Earth piece on Indiana's resurgence seems to sum up most of what we've discussed here in fairly eloquent fashion.

    "Did they win?" Crean said. "Not just did they win part of the year, but did they win year-round? One of the most under-valued things in recruiting is: Are they winning all year-round? Do they have athletic upside? Do they have intelligence upside? And what is their character like? Can they keep getting better? I would put work ethic in there. If they have those attributes, then you have a real chance to get better, and that's what we were looking for."

    McDonald's All-American Noah Vonleh may be an odd choice for the picture connected with this slide, considering that his team amassed only a 17-12 record this past season. Consider Vonleh's surroundings, however.

    Point guard Travis Jorgenson (Georgia Tech) and wing Lincoln Davis (Fairfield) are the only other Division I recruits on Vonleh's New Hampton School team, according to's database. New Hampton put only Vonleh and Jorgenson among the 17 players named New England Prep School Athletic Council (NEPSAC) Class AAA all-stars.

    Brewster Academy won the Class AAA title thanks to strong performances from its three all-stars, including ex-Indiana commit Ron Patterson, who's now headed to Syracuse. Three other schools had more all-stars than New Hampton. Northfield Mount Hermon racked a whopping six, including Harvard recruit Zena Edosomwan.

    Vonleh was a 13-RPG man for New Hampton, the kind of figure that often details a player outworking his opponents. Talented players outworking their opponents are dangerous, regardless of level. If Vonleh proves nearly as productive in college as he was in high school, the titular question here will be answered in the affirmative.


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