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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

New IUPUI head coach Matt Crenshaw tries to remodel his alma mater

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It’s been 18 years since Matt Crenshaw made the college basketball world pay attention to IUPUI, if only for a week or so, after his 12-foot jumper in the conference title game gave the Jaguars their first and only NCAA Tournament appearance.

Can he do it again?

IUPUI announced Crenshaw as the next head coach of the men’s program in April. It was a call he wanted before, having been an assistant coach at the school from 2006 to 2018. He was an associate head coach the final seven years.

“It’s home for me,” Crenshaw said.

During his time as an assistant, IUPUI went through two coaching searches and didn’t land on Crenshaw either time. He left to become an assistant at Ball State in 2018.

Even Crenshaw’s son, Michael, said he started wondering what was taking so long. He thought his father’s resume spoke for itself after more than a decade of helping guide the program.

“It’s something me and him talked about over the years for a long time,” Michael said.

Those who played alongside Crenshaw in the early 2000s, and those who played on the teams he helped coach after, made their opinions known about who the administration should hire this time.

George Hill, who played under Crenshaw his final two seasons at IUPUI and is the only player in program history to get drafted in the NBA, posted a collage of college head coaches at their alma maters on his Facebook page with the caption: “All These Amazing Coaches/Individuals Are Getting The Opportunity To Coach Their Alma Mater. While My Alma Mater Is Relying On A Search Firm To Find Their Next Coach. I Could’ve Sworn One Of Our Own Has Been Sitting Waiting His Turn For The Past 6 Year. Can We Give Our Alum A Chance #TeamCrenshaw.”

(IUPUI used Parker Executive Search to help with its national head coach search.)

Hill, now with the Philadelphia 76ers, was the first person to call Crenshaw after the announcement.

One of Crenshaw’s teammates at IUPUI, Odell Bradley, offered to call the athletic department to vouch for his friend.

“Maybe I can call someone and give them my 2 cents,” he said.

It wasn’t necessary. Crenshaw couldn’t tell him at the time, but the job was his. The school made it official the next day.

Bradley, who coaches basketball in Nashville, Tennessee, said he doesn’t know how Crenshaw will do in the win and loss columns but hopes the administration gives him enough time to turn the program around.

“What I do know is he cares about kids,” Bradley said. “He knows the game of basketball, and he’s a great leader of young men.”

The challenge is plain: IUPUI hasn’t had a winning season since going 19-14 in 2010-11 under the program’s most successful head coach, Ron Hunter, who coached the lone NCAA Tournament team. The 2010-11 season was the last in a streak of 10 straight at .500 or better.

Hunter left in 2011 with 274 wins. The next three coaches had a combined record of 105-199.

Crenshaw was on the Jaguars’ bench for much of that time and is as familiar with the program’s shortcomings as anyone else.

His plan to revamp the program starts with recruiting locally.

“We want to put the fence up,” he said. “We want to lock down the state of Indiana, the city of Indianapolis.”

Only one player on last season’s team was from Indiana.

The other part of Crenshaw’s plan is what many might call culture. Fans don’t pack the stands at home games at Indiana Farmers Coliseum, but if Crenshaw can make this a proud program — one where former players want to come back and stay involved — he’ll be on his way to doing that.

“How can you talk about your program if none of your former players and alums are engaged or they’re not around?” he said.

D.J. McCall, who played under Crenshaw and graduated in 2019, knows how his former coach can make that happen.

Crenshaw is a mentor, McCall said, and that makes it easier to learn from a coach and accept criticism.

Crenshaw took the Ball State job going into McCall’s senior season, but even then he kept in contact with his old players and even gave McCall some pointers before the two teams played in Indianapolis in 2018.

“I know that no one in the history of IUPUI basketball knows more about how to be what it takes to get to that tournament and succeed with that program,” McCall said.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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