Indiana coach Tom Crean answered a few questions on a teleconference call with media about the 2K Sports Classic and the Hoosiers, who face Washington on Thursday at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
(Opening statement) “First of all as always with anything Rick Giles and the Gazelle Group are doing it is an honor to be in it. Judging from the time, the first time I was ever involved with Rick back at Marquette all the way to going into last year, we always come in with a lot of anticipation. We come in with, there’s an enthusiasm level that is high because we know we’re in a first-class event and we’re going to be playing excellent teams and it’s going to be in a big-time venue.
“Our team is excited for it. We’ve played four games at home. We’ve had some big wins. We had a nail-biter that came down to a missed shot at the buzzer last Tuesday night in the first round of this tournament. To us, our guys are really, really excited to play. We’re getting better. Literally we can see it week by week and it’s showing up game by game. This is going to be a whole different deal for us now. Not only because like some of the others we’re going on the road for the first time. But we’re going on the road with so many guys that have never been anywhere in college basketball other than Assembly Hall because we’re so young. We’re bringing in 11 freshmen and sophomores and again, we got to hope that excitement level and that energy level does not override the fact that we have to come in with great intelligence, great discipline and try to build our identity from the very beginning inside of the games.”
(What have you seen in Noah Vonleh and why has he been able to make an impact so quickly?) “We see it everyday because he’s starting to get better. He has a great humility and humbleness because he knows he’s got to get a lot better. He wants to learn. He’s been well coached coming into this. His mother is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met and it carries right over into the way Noah is. I don’t think any of us are surprised. We know that he’s got high capabilities. He’s got an excellent motor. Again there’s a lot of room for improvement with him. I think his numbers are impressive, but I think his improvement rate is even more impressive. I think he’s getting more comfortable everyday and a lot of that comes because he works so hard and he’s learning how to prepare for the games just as much as he works to get ready for practice.”
(In what areas have you seen Vonleh grow the most?) “For an 18-year-old he should be a senior in high school. He’s got not only an uncommon work ethic, but an uncommon maturity. He’s a young guy, but at the same time he’s got such a desire to improve. He’s watching film more intently. He’s trying to take away a couple of things from the people that he’ll (defend), but at the same time he’s already played in games where we switch every position and he’s had to guard point guards. Whenever you throw a lot of things at a team and a person like Noah, they have to stay locked in. Their concentration skills are only going to grow. I think that’s what happened to him. And he continues to gain confidence by the way he works on his shooting, by the way he’s working on his moves, by the way he works on his ball handling. And then in practice, he’s really, really locked in to becoming a better defender and becoming a better range rebounder – a guy that can get out of his areas and rebound balls. That’s probably the next big step for him.”
(What can you learn from Vonleh and young players while seeing them play on a big stage like Madison Square Garden?) “How quickly they adjust and realize it’s just basketball. They have to be locked in to all the details of the offense and defense, the timeout situations and everything that comes out of it and keep that focus. Again, in an environment like that it just helps build a stronger focus. And to not get caught up in all the trappings of the game and the hype and all of those things that go into it. Just come out and realize they can control what they can control, which is being in a stance, get up and down the court, talking on offense and defense. In Noah’s case being aggressive offensively, demanding the ball, moving without the ball and all of those types of things.”
(How much do you help returners Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey get comfortable for Thursday’s game?) “I don’t know if you can. Those guys, especially Yogi and Will, have done a great guys building their leadership off the court as well as on the court so I think there will be some value to that when you get to New York. But again, everybody has to just settle in. It doesn’t matter how many games we’ve won on the road last year and the NCAA tournament and all of those things. Those things help, but when you go through it as a team for the first time it’s different for everybody. And they’ll have to get comfortable in their leadership role when you’re on the road as well. You have to give them the tools and try to provide them the confidence to do that, but again you can’t force it. You got to let it happen. But I think the most important thing is how you talk to them off the floor, at the hotel and things of that nature where they help keep guys locked in to what we’re there to do.”
(On Connecticut) “UConn in general is extremely talented and deep. There’s no question about that. They can go deep into their bench. (DeAndre) Daniels has done a fantastic job of improving. And obviously Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatwright are playing at a high level. They play very well together. There’s always somebody that is going to come on and make plays for them and that’s the sign of a well-coached team. And the tradition of UConn is one of the great traditions in all of college basketball. Jim Calhoun still to this day is the coach that doesn’t get enough credit for what he did to change the landscape there and for impact he’s had in college basketball. I think what’s really great and what is kind of cool for a coach is here’s a guy that he helped raise in the game, went off and had an excellent NBA career, brought him back and he really coaches with the same ideals and coaches the same way. They’re very hard playing. They’re very disciplined offensively. They’re going to attack you on offense. He’s building a deep team. They run excellent stuff. And Kevin has done a fantastic job of building on the Connecticut legacy that Jim built.”
(With Rutgers and Maryland joining the Big Ten next season, does that change Indiana’s recruiting focus?) “I think it does, but it already had if that makes any sense. For us, we were already recruiting in the east. We went to the east the first year we got here. When you look at our team with the fact that what Victor Olidipo has done, Will Sheehey was actually born in New York although we recruited him out of Florida. But with the people that we’re recruiting, there’s no question that it enhances. And one of the big thing is not only because Maryland and Rutgers are coming, but because we have so many alums out there. Outside of Indiana, the second largest alumni base is the New York metropolitan area. The Washington D.C./northern Virginia area is very high up there too. So with Indiana having such a large base there’s a lot of fan support when we go. It’s great. We love being in big-time events like this. We love the television aspect. We love playing against great opponents. Really at Indiana you want to make sure you’re getting the best players that fit the value and character of your program. It can be Jordan Hulls in the city of Bloomington, It can be in another country. So you go where it needs to be done, but there’s no question being able to recruit in the east is great for us in the fact that we know that we’re going to be going into New York and this is going to be our second year and next year will be our third year in a row, then fourth and fifth year. That’s really important for us.”