ROSEMONT, Ill. | Tom Crean made a point to bring all three of his seniors to Thursday’s Big Ten Basketball Media Day at the Hyatt Regency.
It’s a different dynamic for those seniors than they had their freshman year. Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford and Derek Elston came to IU in 2009 after it went 6-25, the worst record in team history.
The team only won 22 games total in the next two seasons. But last year, the Hoosiers went 27-9 and now find themselves at No. 1 in the preseason rankings, they're favored to win the Big Ten and publications can’t stop talking about preseason Player of the Year Cody Zeller.
“It’s totally different,” Watford said. “Walking into my freshman season, no one expected us to be good, no one expected us to do anything. We weren’t anywhere near as talented. Things were totally different.”
Elston said the team always had an underdog mentality, and that that mentality won’t change.
Now, however, no one is disrespecting the Hoosiers.
“I didn’t look that far into the future (as a freshman), but I came here with the thought of rebuilding the program and getting it back to where it needed to be,” Hulls said. “I’m pretty blessed to be a part of it and I’ll take the No. 1 ranking, that’s pretty cool, but we can’t let it get to our head.”
Crean is making sure it doesn’t.
“What matters is, are they challenging each other?" he said. "Are they competing? Are they absorbing the competition and are they hungry to get better? I don't see any sign of that not being the case.”
The team returns all five starters from its Sweet 16 team, and adds four freshmen, including Hanner Mosquera-Perea from La Lumiere in LaPorte, who are all expected to challenge for minutes.
“When we get to the court, we want to battle each other just because this year is going to be different because of time and minutes,” Elston said. “It’s a battle everyday.”
While Indiana returns a wealth of experience, Purdue and coach Matt Painter look to start a new chapter after graduating All-American forward Robbie Hummel, a Valparaiso product.
The team also graduated starters Lewis Jackson and Ryne Smith, and Kelsey Barlow transferred.
“It's going to be a youth movement for us," Painter said. "I do like our talent level; I don't like our experience."
Meanwhile at Illinois, first year coach John Groce said he will be drawing on his time as a head coach at Ohio University, not his assistant coaching experience at Ohio State, to help him make the transition to the Big Ten.
“Going through that and understanding that it does take time, that the learning curve right now when I'm dealing with our 14 players from the standpoint of what they are trying to learn and what we're wanting to do, it's like having 14 freshmen, 14 new guys,” Groce said.