This past weekend, 36 men from across the country came to the Indiana University-Bloomington campus to participate in the inaugural Tom Crean Basketball Fantasy Experience, an event that reenacts the aspects of being an IU basketball player.
The experience started Friday when the participants, including entrepreneur Mark Cuban, Subway spokesman Jared Fogle, American hero Ric Elias, and IU baseball head coach Tracy Smith, arrived at Assembly Hall to pick up their gear consisting of uniforms and shoes. From there, they played in games and a shooting contest for evaluation. The participants were drafted between four teams which were named after the NCAA Final Four sites the IU men’s basketball team had played in—Atlanta, Kansas City, New Orleans, and Philadelphia. Each team finished the day with their first practice and game.
“You don’t have any idea of what the intensity level is,” said IU men’s basketball coach, Tom Crean. “You put a bunch of high-level competitors, no matter what their line of work is, in the same building, and people like that aren’t used to losing. They’re not used to losing games, they’re not used to losing deals, they’re not used to losing matches, they’re not used to losing anything. They don’t want to lose. These camps would not exist and move forward if you had people that were just happy to be there, show up and have a good time. The good time comes with winning.”
Crean coached the Atlanta team where he undoubtedly brought the same amount of intensity he possesses when coaching the Hoosiers.
Saturday, the teams took photos with Coach Crean, watched an IU men’s basketball practice, and played two more games followed by a film session of their games. That night, they met at Coach Crean’s house for cocktails and a Final Four selection show that gave each team their seeds for the tournament Sunday. Team Philadelphia was first, followed by Atlanta, Kansas City, and New Orleans.
Coach Crean also noted that Bloomington nightlife was a component of the experience that was not on the schedule. Some players contributed to the Bloomington economy and felt it Sunday, while Crean admitted to having Chocolate Mousse for the first time.
The next day, Philadelphia and Atlanta won their first-round matches to advance to the championship. Crean, a two-time winner at the Dwyane Wade Fantasy Camp, was looking to become the first fantasy coach to win a three-peat. However, Philadelphia, led by Coach Fran Fraschilla, won the game 54-35. Elias, the pilot who landed the plane in the Hudson River as it was crashing, led Philadelphia with 17 points. Awards were handed out after the championship game.
The experience also included press conferences, athletic trainers, and stretches by the IU strength and conditioning staff. Players were also replenished with drinks, fruit, and catered food like Jimmy John’s, Orange Leaf, and Malibu Grill, whose owner, John Bailey, served as the assistant coach for Team New Orleans.
“It was fantastic,” Bailey said. Bailey also mentioned his favorite part was playing in Assembly Hall.
“It was absolutely one of the best things I had ever done. It was better than I imagined it would be.”
IU baseball head coach Tracy Smith played on Coach Crean’s team and, even though this was his first fantasy experience, he was the player with the third-most free throw attempts throughout the camp and the leading scorer for Atlanta in two of their five games.
“Tracy (Smith) has done a great job being the competitor that he is, taking it to another level in here,” Coach Crean said. “I think Tracy will look back at this and see that he had even more inside him than he probably realized he had. He’s a great competitor and a great athlete. He made all of the big plays late and that’s what great players do.”
After playing in the championship game, Coach Smith left to coach the IU baseball team against the University of Indianapolis and won 6-5.
As Coach Crean’s first fantasy camp was coming to an end, he reflected on the weekend.
“It’s better than I ever could have expected, and, to me, being part of Dwyane’s camp and seeing how that has been run all these years is an extremely high standard. I think this has been everything and more that I could have ever hoped it could be for the experience, for everybody, for the professionalism of it.”
Also, the IU men’s basketball team had their first practice of the 2013-2014 season last week. With Coach Crean’s fantasy camp now over, he will take lessons learned from it to help prepare his team for another successful season.
“Everybody’s got a role, everybody’s got to play their role, and everybody’s role is important. It doesn’t matter what a player thinks, he is nothing without the value of the team, and this (experience) reinforces that for me.”