Maurice Creek played for the first time since January 2011 -- and scored 12 points for Indiana.
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) – Don't tell Maurice Creek that the
basketball game Indiana University played against Indiana Wesleyan Thursday
didn't count. Don't call it an exhibition, a flashy moment that will be long
forgotten when the Big Ten season arrives.
The tears that appeared to be collecting in Creek's dark,
hopeful eyes said that he didn't believe that.
Not a bit of it.
Creek scored 12 points in 15 minutes as Indiana won 86-57 in
Assembly Hall. No Hoosier scored more. A moment like this was why Creek kept
bounding out of his hospital bed into the practice gym when there were so many
reasons for the kid to surrender.
You remember that scene last Saturday when South Carolina
running back Marcus Lattimore was on the ground, covering his face with a towel
because he had destroyed a knee?
Maurice Creek had three of those moments – a knee injury in
December 2009, a horrific injury to his other knee in January 2011 and then a
ruptured Achilles' tendon nine months later.
In basketball, one of those injuries will rob a player of
his quickness and joy of playing the game. Three injuries certainly seemed like
a powerful suggestion that Creek consider helping this team as a cheerleader or
student coach. Some four-letter words were likely uttered around Creek. One had
to be – Quit.
"I'm sure there were many days in his mind," IU basketball
coach Tom Crean said. "We had to look at it the same way. You don't want to put somebody in a situation
that they can't achieve from. But he's done it."
That's why 17,186 people stood when Creek entered this game
early in the first half. They cheered. They chanted his name. They cheered even
louder. They stayed up. They made certain that Creek, Cody Zeller, Christian Watford and all of their IU teammates
understood why they were standing.
"It was a great, great, great … great reaction," Creek said. "Standing
ovation? That's big time. That's love."
Then Maurice Creek took the basketball and made certain that
everybody knew that he didn't come back to celebrate a token moment in the
Indiana will start this season as one of the best college
basketball teams in the country. When you look at Victor Oladipo, Will Sheehey
and Remy Abell, Crean has assembled a string of guys who can do what Creek does
at the off guard position – and likely do those things better.
But Creek isn't here to be a hood ornament. He's here to
play. He gave Indiana 15 minutes and showed that he plans to help this team, no
matter if he's the sixth man or the 12th man.
He took a powerful dribble from the right side, danced into
the lane and scored. He made a three-point shot from the right wing. He made
The next ovation that Creek earned wasn't simply sentimental
for taking off his warm-ups and getting on the floor. It was for making plays.
It was for showing that he's determined to become a guy that Crean will wave
into games when the Big Ten season arrives. He made four of six shots, half of
his four three-pointers and both of his free throws.
"It felt like a long time," Creek said. "But I got to this
point and I'm glad that I could feel the game again. It felt great, something I
"I love the game just like these guys love it. To sit down
for a year and a half kind of hurt. But I put in the work and these guys helped
me to get back on the floor."
Let's make one thing clear: He is not the same player who
scored 31 points against John Wall and Kentucky in Assembly Hall three seasons
ago. That player looked like a guy who could be in the NBA after one season. He
likely never will be that guy again.
There's still a slight wobble in his gait when he moves,
especially from side to side. Three years ago Creek was quicker than anybody in
Indiana's lineup. That's not true today.
But he can still make shots. He's worked at upgrading his
ball-handling. He's listened to Crean demand that he become a better defensive
player. He's ready to give Indiana a few good minutes here and a few more there.
"It was great," Creek said. "I thank these guys every day
for giving me the strength to go through the rehab, go through the tough times,
rebuild and get back to this point. I just want to play the game and enjoy it."