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Indiana seniors take long road to earn respect

By Michael Marot

Associated Press

Published: Friday, March 2 2012 3:55 p.m. MST

That left Roth and Pritchard as the only remaining members from the original four-man recruiting class. Jones and Jobe both signed with Indiana later.

Suddenly, the newcomers who had picked Indiana for its strong basketball reputation were adjusting their expectations.

"One of the reasons I committed here was making the NCAA tournament, but I really didn't expect what was going to happen," Pritchard said. "I knew I was going to get a lot of playing time, but I didn't expect it to be like that. It's been a long couple of years."

Long and, for much of the time, frustrating as people kept trying to write them off.

As sophomores, Pritchard and Co. saw incoming freshmen Christian Watford and Maurice Creek called the future of the program. But when Creek went down with a season-ending knee injury in December, the Hoosiers were lost. They won only four more times and finished 10-21.

Last season, with another solid recruiting class, Hoosiers fans thought they might make it back to postseason play. In January, Creek sustained another season-ending injury to the other knee and the Hoosiers only two more games, finishing 12-20.

So when Creek tore his Achilles tendon in October, the fear was that Indiana would wind up with a fourth straight losing season — something that had never happened in Bloomington.

But the three classes that were supposed to lift the Hoosiers out of the Big Ten basement, rallied around the seniors.

The Hoosiers started 12-0 for the first time since Indiana won the national championship in 1975-76. They upset No. 1 Kentucky and No. 2 Ohio State in December. They gave Crean his first 20-win season since leaving Marquette, and his first victory over Tom Izzo, his old boss. Now, they're just a week away from, finally, returning to the NCAA tournament after a three-year absence.

"When we first got here, we talked about uncharted water. It was for everybody," Crean said after Tuesday's upset of No. 5 Michigan State. "It's the same thing now, when you're climbing and you're getting better. We cannot get caught up in anything but that climb and making that climb better."

It may be just the start.

In four years, the seniors have presided over the greatest turnaround in Indiana history.

The team's Academic Progress Rate score, which was 811 in 2007-08, is now a perfect 1,000. The three years of NCAA probation that resulted from former coach Kelvin Sampson's series of impermissible phone calls to recruits ended earlier this season.

And the players who were told they weren't talented enough to preside over Indiana's resurgence have done just that through perseverance, hard work and a toughness they didn't know they had.

"We wouldn't be here now if it hadn't gone through those last three years," Roth said. "It's going to be a lot of fun to look back and see where we've taken this program and where it's going to continue to go."

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