Yesterday Indiana announced that former Hoosier Derek Elston will be returning to Bloomington to become Indiana's Director of Player Development. The 6'9" forward had played for the Hoosiers for four seasons before graduating in 2013 and had spent the previous two seasons playing professionally overseas in Europe.
The decision for Elston to return to the program was a recent one, with head coach Tom Crean assuming that Elston was going to continue his basketball career overseas. When Crean realized Elston was still stateside, he reached out to him about the position and the rest was history.
"Derek Elston has been a major part of everything here from walking in when it was at the bottom and helping the program become a champion again. From the day he left Indiana with two degrees he’s gone out of his way to sustain a level of connectivity to the program by investing his own energy in the program. He is close enough in age to really know what our players deal with and how much improvement is needed on a daily basis," Crean stated when discussing the reasoning for bringing Elston back to the program.
Here's where it gets somewhat interesting, though. The school posted a release announcing Elston joining the staff and there was a line that mentioned that his role will "include player mentoring and life skills programming, administrative operations, and involvement in the program’s support services." The interesting bit about that line was the mentioning of player mentoring, especially with Elston only being a few years removed from playing for Indiana, as part of the reason for bringing him in can be speculated as Crean trying to clean up his program. It's nothing new that the Hoosiers have suffered from numerous off-the-court indiscretions, leading to a number of dismissals and disciplinary action being leveled against members of the program.
So with the issues starting to get somewhat out of hand, Crean made a smart decision and is bringing in a player about two years removed from the program and was known as having a positive impact while playing for the team. The thought process likely behind this is that if Elston's positivity and leadership remains intact he can help influence the players on the team to make better decisions to help right the ship for Crean and company. Indiana has more than enough talent to compete in the Big Ten, but even if the program wins plenty of games this season the disciplinary issues have already drawn the ire of the school's president and continue to be one of the biggest issues held against Crean.
The move may be a calculated one, though Elston is a great example of what Crean wants from his players. If his mindset and work ethic can rub off on the members of the team, then they decision to add him to the staff will likely be a good one. Even if the players continue to do foolish things on their own time, Elston is well respected by the fan base (and Crean) and should provide to be a solid role model for the team. At the very least it's a move that even the most anti-Crean fans should at least enjoy.
"I know playing here is tough, whether it’s practices or the pressure of wanting to do your best...I’ve seen a change in these guys already and how we interact with each other," mentioned Elston on his position with the program since his return to Indiana. "It’s kind feels surreal for me...I can’t believe I’m back here."