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NCAA selection more than common for rebuilt Indiana

College BasketballBasketballCollege SportsSportsNCAANCAA Men's Division I Basketball TournamentCody Zeller

BLOOMINGTON - His smile was worth 10,000 phrases-but really it just represented four years.

From two returning players to six first season wins. From a trio of losing campaigns to a pair of last-place finishes in the Big Ten.

All of these brought out the biggest child-like grin when Indiana popped up on the television screen as the fourth seed in the South Region of the 2012 NCAA Tournament.

He looked to one side and his family then to the other and his players clapping and high-fiving each other. Then Crean looked up at the television screen one more time with his mouth opened a bit to see if it was real.

The kid was out in Coach Crean thanks to the simple mention of his team's name.

"Every one of them, no matter what age they started watching, they remember it," said Crean of his players, each of whom will play in their first tournament. "And now they will have this to remember. No matter how long they play, they will always remember the first one.

"It is really a special time."

Officially that will kick in at 9:27 PM Thursday night, when the Hoosiers tip off against 13th seeded New Mexico State at the Rose Garden in Portland, Ore. But the players were more than happy to take a few moments and relish their chance to finally make it to the "Big Dance."

"It definitely feels like we made it back," said Verdell Jones III, who was a member of Crean's original recruiting class following the turmoil of the Kelvin Sampson resignation in 2008.

BLOOMINGTON - That first season only two players with playing time and 1.8 points a game returned to the Hoosiers lineup which was build with a collection of walk-ons, freshman and junior college transfers. Indiana won just six games in 2008-2009 and improved just four wins the following season.

NCAA Tournaments seemed an even more distant goal when the team improved to just 12 wins in 2010-2011-with just three coming in conference.

Hope, however, was enough to recruit a collection of talent to Bloomington that finally meshed this season. An upset of No. 1 Kentucky in December spurred the Hoosiers to a 25-8 record, making their first Crean-era selection a foregone conclusion once the selection show aired Sunday.

"I think those two years really helped us," said junior guard Jordan Hulls, who was recruited after Crean's first season. "It helped us to build character and chemistry and all the things that have gotten us to where we are today."

Sunday that was celebrating the school's 36th selection to NCAA Divsion I Men's Basketball Championship, which they have won five times. Those banners have been seen and implanted into the minds of these tournament newbies from the moment they stepped on campus.

Now after four years of long rebuilding, they'll get a chance to get it.

"I was confident that Coach Crean and the players here had the program going in the right direction and it's definitely been a fun season for us," said freshman Cody Zeller-the highest-profile recruit of the Crean era. "Hopefully we arn't close to the end."

Maybe the smiles won't be either.

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