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It was the basketball equivalent of Albert Einstein trying to explain his theory of relativity to, well, me.
Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean kept a room packed with media waiting for more than an hour after his team’s overtime loss to Butler on Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Presumably, Crean had time to come down off that competitive high that coaches reach in the heat of battle. However, when Crean walked into the press room, it was still a walking-on-eggshells moment for the press.
The first question, not surprisingly, set him off. He was asked why all-everything center Cody Zeller was sitting on the bench when a 5-foot-11 guard was scoring the game-winning basket in the paint. Seemed like a logical first question to me.
Not so much to Crean, who let his displeasure be known with an angry stare. After saying he already had covered the topic, which he hadn’t, he covered it.
He explained the type of offense that Butler had been running and how it dictated his response, which was to put five of his very best defenders on the floor minus Zeller.
Now considering that Crean gets paid a gazillion dollars for taking a program that had pulled a Titanic and not only salvaged the wreck but turned it back into the pride of cruise liners, those of us in the media room did a collective nod.
Then again, I doubt if many in the audience really agreed with him that keeping Zeller on the bench was the right move. I guess that’s why we were in the audience and he’s on the throne.
Truth be told, it all becomes a jumble of coachspeak at times where Monday morning quarterbacks simply get confused. We hear coaches say that they have to find a way to get their best players on the field, diamond, court or bowling alley. Then we get an instance like Saturday, where the guy who many think will win Player of the Year honors is waving a towel when the final seconds tick off the clock.
Confusing matters is that Crean really does have seven guys or more on his roster who could start at just about any program in the land. So many decisions to make.
I guess, we, the uneducated public, often follow the KISS theory, or “keep it simple stupid.” That’s because we all loved the movie “Hoosiers.”
You remember the scene, the one at the end of the movie where coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) has designed a play where he is using the team’s best player, Jimmy Chitwood (Maris Valainis), as a decoy while some artillery soldier takes the most important shot of the century. The players all roll their eyes and Dale changes his mind, allowing Chitwood to make the shot for a happy ending.
The message here is that a great basketball genius can have times where he gets caught up in trying to out-think the other guy.
It is something that I never have understood about basketball, and I guess I never will. For years of covering the Pac-10, I watched coaches from universities like UCLA and Arizona take a roster full of former prep All-Americans and go into a place like Pullman, Wash., and try to match up correctly with Washington State’s roster of overachievers. This always begged the question, “Why not force them to match up with you?”
It’s kind of the “chicken or the egg” basketball argument. If the other team goes small, do you have to go small? Why not go big and force them to go big? Or really cross everybody up and go medium.
Since all this flexing of basketball brainwaves has happened for eternity, I guess it’s simply a given and I have some sort of mental block where I never will understand it. It’s kind of like watching an NFL punt return guy who won’t get away from a ball that is bouncing around the turf. Coaches have been screaming “Get away” since Pop Warner, but nobody ever does.
It takes a real Einstein to unravel such mysteries, and that’s why Indiana is blessed to have Crean, who has to rank among the top five coaches in the country.
So while Crean continues to sail Indiana’s ship toward an amazing season, some of us will keep asking aggravating questions. Let’s just hope he has some patience for us.
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