Indiana University is rich in basketball tradition and success. Five men’s national championship banners hang from the rafters in Assembly Hall.
However, the Lady Hoosiers have recently experienced some dark years with a 29-60 record over the past three seasons. Indiana hired Curt Miller, who won six Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year awards and advanced to the NCAA Tournament five times at Bowling Green State University, to replace former IU Coach Felisha Legette-Jack, who was fired after the Hoosiers went 6-24 last season.
IU Coach Miller said that the Hoosiers are building the program by improving team chemistry, being involved in community service work and competing in the classroom.
“The wins—it’s going to take a couple of years,” Miller said. “It’s not going to be as easy to see the building on the court but we’re doing a lot of things to build the program and not just a team. A lot of that is off the floor that people don’t see.”
While IU Coach Miller is focused on improving the team off the court, he said that the Hoosiers are excited about winning because he said wins are hard to come by for his Indiana squad that is limited offensively.
On Wednesday, Feb. 20th, the Indiana women’s basketball team showed signs of growth when it earned its most significant win in the Curt Miller era. IU defeated No. 22 Purdue 62-61 after senior guard Jasmine McGhee hit the game-winning shot as time expired. It was Indiana’s first win over a ranked opponent since Dec. 5, 2010 and it was a promising result for a program eager to rebuild.
A Fierce Rivalry
Jeremy Gray, IU’s Assistant Athletic Director for Broadcast Services, said that the two Big Ten in-state rivals are on the opposite end of the spectrum in college basketball, which made the Hoosiers’ victory even more impressive.
“Purdue is a tournament team and Indiana is absolutely in a rebuilding effort,” Gray said.
He described Assembly Hall as having one of the two largest crowds for an IU women’s basketball game this season.
“There were a lot of students there for that game, they stayed throughout and they were a factor in the end,” Gray said.
Robby Howard, one of the two Indiana Daily Student women’s basketball beat writers, said that IU Athletics, the Crimson Club and the IU Varsity Club did a very good job marketing the game to students.
“They were really trying to attract students to the game and it obviously worked because it was the first time you had an actual student section at the game,” Howard said. “That obviously played a large role when you actually have audible fans and the team was really able to feed off that energy. You could see them making a lot of hustle plays and the crowd would come to its feet—that’s something that hasn’t happened all season long.”
Jeremy Gray said that the teams traded baskets the entire night, the play was at a high level and that the entire game was exciting. The excitement peaked when McGhee’s shot fell through the net as time expired, which prompted pandemonium on the court.
“As soon as the ball went through, literally as the time expired, her teammates charged her and hugged her,” Gray said. “Some of the men’s basketball players came on the floor and gave her big hugs.”
Indiana’s Assistant Athletic Director for Broadcast Services said that the win was huge for the Lady Hoosiers.
“It made SportsCenter’s top ten plays the following day, it got over 10,000 hits on YouTube and it was one of those games that when the program gets turned around in a couple of years, you can look back on this game as one that helped change everything for Indiana,” Gray said.
IU Coach Miller’s Rebuilding Effort
When asked how he was going to build IU’s women’s basketball program, IU Coach Curt Miller said, “Well a lot of areas, although they are not necessarily going to equate statistically. We believe that you build a championship team in the locker room first.”
He said that he knows statistical success will take a few years to develop but in the mean time, he is trying to change the culture of the program in his first season at IU.
Robby Howard said that Miller has told members of the media all season that Indiana is the worst team in the Big Ten. Despite having limited talent and few scholarship players on his roster, the Hoosiers’ first-year head coach teaches his players to give their best effort every day, whether in games or in practices.
“The big thing with Curt Miller and this program is that he wants his team to play hard and aggressive every single night,” Howard said. “It’s just tough to do when you only have seven scholarship players and eight players who are playing on the roster. It’s tough to play physical in that nature when you just don’t have a lot of bodies on the court.”
Howard cited the transfer of former Hoosier Quaneisha McCurty as an example of Miller making tangible changes on the culture of the program, especially with an emphasis on effort.
“It was simply due to the fact that she wasn’t playing hard in practice,” Howard said. “Miller’s whole philosophy is if you don’t play hard in practice, then you don’t play [in games].”
A Blueprint Right Across the Hall
Indiana’s women’s basketball team isn’t the only program that plays in Assembly Hall that has recently undergone a rebuilding process.
According to an Indiana Daily Student article from May 2008 that was written by Chris Engel, former IU Men’s Basketball Coach Kelvin Sampson’s impermissible phone calls caused the NCAA to put the program on probation.
ESPN’s Andy Katz wrote an article recapping the sanctions against Indiana in November 2008. Katz wrote that Indiana was placed on a three-year probation, the men’s program lost scholarships and that the coaching staff was severely limited in its access to high school players.
As a result of the penalties, IU’s men’s basketball team went 28-66 in IU Coach Tom Crean’s first three seasons. It took Crean three seasons to achieve his first win against a ranked opponent as well as to eclipse 10 wins in a single season.
While IU Coach Miller took over a Hoosier basketball program under different conditions, the Hoosiers’ win against Purdue allowed him to accomplish both of those achievements in his first season at the helm of Indiana’s women’s basketball team.
Robby Howard said that entering the season, a lot of comparisons were being made between IU Coach Crean’s revival of IU’s men’s basketball program and the rebuilding process that IU Coach Miller embarked on when he became the new women’s basketball coach at Indiana University.
Miller said before the season that the blueprint for the women’s program was right across the hall in the men’s program, which has been ranked No. 1 in the country for the majority of the season.
The most iconic element of IU Coach Crean’s rebuilding of IU basketball was the Hoosiers’ 72-71 victory over No. 1 Kentucky at Assembly Hall last season, which was completed by then-junior Christian Watford’s last-second three-pointer.
The Lady Hoosiers followed in a similar suit this season with a buzzer beater of their own, also against a major rival, when Jasmine McGhee’s 18-foot jump shot connected at the buzzer on Feb. 20th.
“Obviously the Indiana men’s team is a lot better than the women’s team but the analogy holds up in that it was a moment that got a lot of notoriety,” Jeremy Gray said as he discussed the comparison between the rebuilding processes of IU’s men’s and women’s basketball programs. “It showed that Indiana can compete in the Big Ten against high quality teams and player for player, Indiana was out-manned in that game. They found a way to get that done and I think that speaks to coaching.”
The Hoosier players have been the ones competing on the court but it has been the relentless preparation and determination of IU Coach Miller that has willed Indiana to two Big Ten victories in a season in which he told the media that “prognosticators said that Indiana wouldn’t even win a game [in the Big Ten] this year.”
Jeremy Gray and Robby Howard agree that IU Coach Miller needs to bring in great recruiting classes in order to elevate Indiana to the top of the Big Ten. Miller may have found his Cody Zeller—his All-American player around whom he can develop a championship program—in 2014 commit Tyra Buss, who Howard said was leading the country in scoring average per game earlier this season at roughly 38 points per contest.
“He knows what he has to do and now that he has a name like Indiana behind him, I think he’s just going to do phenomenal things,” Howard said.
IU Coach Miller is ready to turn the women’s program around because there is no job in the country that he would rather have.
At Hoosier Hysteria on Oct. 20th, 2012, in front of 17,472 excited Hoosier fans, IU Coach Miller said, “This is my dream job and I’m living my dream now.”
With his passion for Indiana University and his positive attitude about rebuilding the IU women’s basketball program, Curt Miller may just be the right coach to bring Indiana’s first women’s national championship banner to Assembly Hall.