Heading into Friday’s 8 p.m. season opener against Bryant, Indiana coach Tom Crean’s thoughts are still almost as much with the players who won’t be playing as the ones who will.
Crean said he remains shocked about the nine-game suspensions given to freshmen big men Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin for impermissible benefits — which were considered permissible until it was determined that their summer travel coach Mark Adams had donated $185 to Indiana from 1986-92 and was therefore considered a booster for life. The Hoosiers are hopeful that an appeal will lessen their sentence, but they don’t know when they can expect an answer from an NCAA appeals committee.
“My greatest concern is for them,” Crean said Thursday. “It as been and it will remain that way, because they don’t deserve this. At the end of the day, that’s really what should matter the most is the welfare of the student athlete. They don’t deserve it. Nobody deserves it, but they certainly don’t deserve it.”
Crean was asked if this situation and the Guy-Marc Michel situation have inspired him to make more of a point to make his voice heard in the NCAA’s legislative process and to bring attention his issues with certain eligibility rules. He said he didn’t plan to and wanted to keep some of his opinions on the matter private.
“I don’t think it works that way,” Crean said. “I don’t think it works that way. I got a lot of private thoughts on this, but I’m not really where I want to be at with it where it’s out public like that. I’m too close to home on this with these two guys. That’s what the biggest concern is that we’ve got two young men out there who really have no idea why, nor do they deserve it. I’d like somebody to tell me why they deserve it. Other than that, I’m just going to keep coaching them, working with them and focus on this team and leave the legislative process to others.”
Whether he gets that answer or not, he’s certainly unlikely to get an appeal back by today’s 8 p.m. game. The Hoosiers are already without senior forward Derek Elston, who tore his meniscus in late October. That’s left Indiana with very little frontcourt depth. Though sophomore center Cody Zeller and senior forward Christian Watford give them two Wooden Award nominees in the starting lineup, the only other available true post man is walk-on Jeff Howard. Freshman Jeremy Hollowell, a 6-foot-8, 217-pounder, is more of a small forward, but he will likely be pressed into service at the power forward spot at times and the Hoosiers will have to play small.
“If we play conventional our backup right now is Jeff Howard,” Crean said. “There will be some conventional and some unconventional.”
Howard, a junior from Westfield, has appeared in just 20 games in his first two seasons and played just 39 minutes, scoring a total of three points — all from the free throw line — and grabbing nine rebounds. The Hoosiers are hopeful that the former All-State honorable mention can help in small spurts.
“He’s gotten better,” Crean said. “I would like him to believe that he’s gotten better the way that I think I do and some others think. I still think that he is not quite bought into the fact that we’d like him to play. But he will, he’ll be out there. He does some really good things. He had a couple of plays pick-and-roll wise defensively in the exhibition game that were really good. He battles every day in here. We’ll just see where it goes. I’m not ready to call him a rotation guy. I don’t know what that is. … I don’t know what’s going to happen with it. We’re just gonna go play.”
The Hoosiers say they are confident in their ability to play small. They can play small forwards Will Sheehey and Jeremy Hollowell at power forward on occasion, and Watford said he thinks he can play center, especially early in the season.
“We’ve definitely been working on that the last couple of practices,” Watford said. “With our offense, most of the guys can play most of the positions. The main thing will be we’ll just have to rebound the ball that’s the main thing we’ve been working on. … I don’t see too many people in the next five games that I couldn’t guard as a big five.”