And a Child Shall Lead Them

I had a conversation with a three-year old a couple of weeks ago. I went into the front office to find him sitting there, clearly in trouble.

“What’s going on?” I asked both the secretary and the 3-year old.

“Why don’t you tell Mr. Taylor why you’re here?” The secretary asked the little boy as I sat down on the bench next to him.

“Well,” I asked, “what’s going on?

He looked at me and said, “I was trying to be a good boy, but it seems I wasn’t able to.”

Suppressing a laugh at that matter of fact response, I asked, “Why do you think that is?”

“Well,” he paused, “my brother has been teaching me some bad things and I think he made me do it.”

“Really?”

“Why don’t you tell Mr. Taylor how old your brother is?” the secretary chimed in.

“Two.”

“Wait, your LITTLE brother, taught you bad things and then your BABY brother, from home, somehow made you do these things here at school?”

“Yes.”

I was too stunned to speak for a few seconds.

This same phenomenon is to blame for my radio silence after the Wisconsin game and then the Illinois debacle. But I was shaken out of my stupor today when I read some of the quotes following the game. We’ve got guys on this team channelling my 3-year old student.

After the Illinois game Jordan Hulls was asked if he saw anything in practice leading up to the game that would explain this hot mess.

“No, I felt like we were ready to play, ready to execute and do all the things we needed to do to win, but apparently we didn’t do that.”

Verdell said the effort was, “disappointing, embarrassing. We’ve worked to hard to come out like that and play like we did tonight.”

In other words, “I was trying to be a good boy, but it seems I wasn’t able to.”

Any idea how many times this year Coach Crean has said that the team played really well in practice, or they had a great week of practice, or the energy in practice was really good but it just didn’t translate to the game? Me either, but if you put those on one side of a scale and “I think that goes without saying” on the other side of the scale they’d balance out like a witch and a duck.

Bob Knight famously said, “Everyone wants to win, but not everyone is willing to prepare to win.”

This team is the bizarro version of that statement. It seems they are really willing to prepare to win, but they just don’t want to win. It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen.

In the last three years we’ve had losing streaks of 10 games, 11 games, 11 games, six games and 8 games. And I’m not sure we’ve had a bad practice in all that time.

But the things that bothers me the most about all this is that no one on the court seems to be able to explain this difference between practice play and game play. Don Fischer has said that in the practices he’s seen the team is working hard and at times really clicking. And I have to believe that Crean is stumped by it too. If he wasn’t, he’d have fixed it by now.

Some of it can be laid at the feet of the overall talent on the team. Your first team can only be pushed in practice as hard as the second team is capable of pushing them, and aside from recruiting better players (which Crean has done) the best you can do in that circumstance is get a group of second team players who make up for their lack of ability with a nastiness and determination not to get beat by anyone that the first team has to bust their asses to accomplish anything.

I’ve never seen this team practice, so I can’t say our reserves and walk-ons aren’t these kind of kids, but I’ve seen no evidence to prove they are either. In fact, all signs point to “no.”

After the game, Illinois Senior, Mike Davis said, according to David Mercer of the Associated Press, “Last night we used film of them storming the court, their coach running and kissing his wife, as motivation,” Davis said, adding that the Hoosiers’ failure to shake hands with the Illini after the game was just salt in a stinging wound.”

This Indiana team has faced far worse indignities at the hands of nearly every opponent in the Big Ten this year and I’ve not once seen them come out pissed off at the other team and ready to punish them for some slight, real or perceived.

If they sported that kind of winning, tiger-blooded attitude, and less of the I-can’t- believe-these-unfair-refs-just-called-another-foul-on-us-the-fact-that.-We-lead-the-world-in-fouls-committed-can’t-possibly-be-because-we’re-out-of-position,-slow-to-help,-have- our-heads-turned-while-the-ball-is-being-driven-right-at-our-backs-and-would-rather- slap-down-with-my-hands-than-move-my-feet expression they wear EVERY SINGLE TIME a foul is called against them, maybe we wouldn’t be looking to close our third consecutive season with a weeks-long losing streak.

This team no longer believes they can win. They work so hard in practice, but they just can’t seem to get it right on the court.

Maybe their little brothers are teaching them bad things and making them do them when they aren’t around.

That makes as much sense as anything I’ve seen so far this season.

Jeff Taylor