BOZICH: Tom Crean Isn't Giving An Inch -- Even in Handshake Line - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH: Tom Crean Isn't Giving An Inch -- Even in Handshake Line

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Indiana coach Tom Crean embraced Victor Oladipo after IU defeated Michigan Sunday and Crean engaged with a Michigan assistant coach. Indiana coach Tom Crean embraced Victor Oladipo after IU defeated Michigan Sunday and Crean engaged with a Michigan assistant coach.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – By now, you've likely seen the video. Before Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean joined the vibrant, full-court celebration of a Big Ten outright championship with his IU players, assistants and families, he had a short, but feisty conversation with Michigan assistant coach Jeff Meyer.

The available video actually shows a one-way conversation: Crean yelling, Meyer listening before he walks away, with Indiana assistant Tim Buckley playing the Henry Kissinger-peacemaker role.

All you can hear Crean saying is this: "You know what you did. You helped wreck the program. You helped wreck that program."

Crean was asked about it after the game. He said to ask Meyer about the exchange. He didn't have a comment.

So I sent Meyer an e-mail this morning. He was not available after the game. No response so far, and I doubt that Meyer will comment.

Speaking on the Big Ten coaches' teleconference Monday, Crean did comment. He called it a professional misunderstanding and said that he telephoned Meyer to apologize Sunday night after the game while on the way to the team plane. Crean did the right thing.

In a noon radio interview with Dan Dakich in Indianapolis, Crean said the dust-up was a mistake that should have never happened. He said he should not have taken the issue to the handshake line and instead "handled it behind closed doors."

Michigan coach John Beilein said this: "Michigan's always going to win with class, and it's going to lose with class. I'm proud of the way Jeff [Meyer] showed great poise."

That still leaves some dots to be connected and blanks to be filled in about what created the "professional misunderstanding." I'll take a shot, strictly theory.

College basketball recruiting is a contact sport. There is an Indiana native on Michigan's roster (freshman Mitch McGary of Chesterton in the northwest part of the state) that Indiana pursued and there is another one on the way – Zak Irvin of Hamilton Southeastern High School, the leading choice for 2013 Mr. Basketball.

But protect-your-turf recruiting scrums like those two wouldn't be enough to inspire that kind of emotion from Crean.

This might be: One of the visitors at the Crisler Center Sunday was James Blackmon Jr. from Fort Wayne. He's one of the top juniors in the state as well a Top 50 player nationally in the 2014 class. He tweeted a few thoughts and pictures from his seat near the baseline where first Trey Burke and then Jordan Morgan missed their potential game-winning shots at the end of Indiana's 72-71 victory.

Blackmon has been committed to Indiana for nearly three years without ever giving an indication of wavering.

Seeing Blackmon at the game sitting with Irvin and Austin Hatch, a Michigan 2014 commit from the Fort Wayne area, might have been enough to inspire Crean to greet Meyer with a little different response than "nice effort," in the post-game handshake line.

Crean has scrapped through five seasons to elevate Indiana from 1-17 to 14-4 and undisputed Big Ten champions. There have been a string of bruises and no shortcuts. The Big Ten teams that had the means to bury Indiana buried the Hoosiers.

Negative recruiting was a constant companion. Big Ten head coaches telling recruits not to sign with Indiana because they'd never play in the NCAA Tournament. Other coaches in the league warning guys not to go to IU because Crean was stockpiling too much talent.

Crean is a guy who isn't going to give an inch. That's a reason he's been able to fight through the 10-21 and 12-20 seasons as well as the stories from two years ago that other coaches would have quick-fixed Indiana back to the top before Crean did it his way. Crean wanted to build something that would last, guys who left town with degrees and a thorough appreciation of Indiana basketball.

The first thing Crean had to do to fix the Indiana program of the toxic atmosphere created by the previous coaching staff was cleanse the locker room of guys recruited by former IU coach Kelvin Sampson and his assistants. Meyer was one of those assistants.

As Dan Dakich, one of Sampson's assistants, told me the other night, Crean didn't start the job teaching the pick and roll. He started by finding cigarette lighters and cleaning out lockers. They had to go. The culture was awful.

That was one way that Sampson, Meyer and the previous staff "helped wreck the program." The other was by putting Indiana on NCAA probation. (Meyer, for the record, was not punished by the NCAA.)

But back to Blackmon. Crean is counting on Blackmon to run his team one day and any hint, even a misunderstanding, that Michigan might be trying to flip that commitment would not result in high fives from the Indiana staff. Trey Lyles, a top 10 forward from Indianapolis, has already de-committed from IU's 2014 class.

You can expect Crean to vigorously protect his turf. It's who he is. I also wouldn't be surprised to hear somebody from Michigan say that Blackmon simply wanted to watch the game and ride to Ann Arbor with his buddy Hatch. Visiting teams cannot provide tickets for recruits. The home team can provide tickets.

That would probably qualify under "professional misunderstanding." So would not grouping Meyer with Kelvin Sampson and others who were actually punished by the NCAA. Meyer was clear when he went from Bloomington to Ann Arbor.

Don't be surprised if there is more friction between the staffs in the competition for players.

The next great young player in the state of Indiana is Eron Gordon, a freshman at North Central High School in Indianapolis. He is the younger brother of New Orleans Hornets' star Eric Gordon.

Eric Gordon played one season for the Hoosiers – after Sampson and Meyer (a friend of the Gordon family) flipped him to IU and away from his oral commitment to Illinois.

Remember: College basketball, especially recruiting, is a contact sport.

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