Hoosiers get loud welcome back from NCAA wins
The Indiana Hoosiers were welcomed home from the NCAA Tournament Sunday, with more work to be done.
Led off the bus by Indiana big man Cody Zeller, the men's basketball team, one after another, is back on campus after a tough week competing in the opening weekend of the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament in Portland.
And the team is also back to a new reality for the program
Visibly tired, Coach Tom Crean, dressed in jeans and white- and red-striped shirt, spoke to a crowd of several hundred Hoosier faithful, minutes after getting back to Assembly Hall.
Arguably for the first time since taking the reins of the program four years ago, after the university dismissed Kelvin Sampson, Crean is starting to get the Hoosier faithful fully in his corner. And for the first time in a decade, students are coming back from spring break to a basketball team still in the hunt for a national title.
"While you guys were in the Carribeans and all of those warm places, we were in the rain of Portland trying to find a way to win two huge basketball games," Crean told the crowd.
He found the way to win those games, positioning the team for their first trip to the Sweet 16 since 2002, the year after Coach Bob Knight left the program. In the decade that followed Knight's absence from the sideline, there has been little to cheer about in Bloomington - until now.
"We could feel the spirit of the Hoosier Nation everywhere. People like you that have helped make the confidence grow with the work ethic and the desire these guys have to be successful, you have helped fuel that since the very beginning," said Crean.
In some way, this is a beginning for this team, this is new territory stepping onto the national basketball stage, it is not lost on the players, all of whom took the microphone to thank the crowd.
This is also new territory for Crean. He is delivering on the expectations he promised after the university hired him. Crean told the crowd it is time for the Internet bulletin board doubters to get on board.
"Bulletin boards will not hold it this week. With all of the doubters that will be out there this week, we are gonna need a full room, ya know, what the believers are in here with us," he said.
Crean is the seventh coach to lead the Hoosiers and the third hired in the past decade. Over the decades, Hoosier fans have grown accustomed to winning and consistency on the sidelines. Crean is the first coach, according to many fans, that has a chance of winning back a sometimes stubborn, but loyal, Hoosier Nation.
A second victory against Kentucky, a team many Indiana fans see as a bigger rival than in-state Purdue, in one season will help cement his legacy as an Indiana coach.
Indiana travels to Atlanta this week for the Sweet 16 for a rematch with rival Kentucky.