My Two Cents: Accountability the Key Component of Leadership

Tom Brew

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The losing streak is at four games now, so Archie Miller couldn't avoid the questions Wednesday about what's wrong with his Indiana basketball team. The list, sadly, is long.

Every voice in the state seems to have an answer to the issue, but it really boils down to one simple thing.

It's on the 11 guys in that locker room. Period.

The hard thing about playing in a league like the Big Ten is that there's no let up. So it's easy for losses to mount, which is what's happened to the Hoosiers. They were one minute away from having the best overall record in the Big Ten in that Maryland game, but now they are 15-8 and 5-7 in the Big Ten, with their NCAA tourney bid slipping away. The struggles lead to confidence issues, which is real, but it can certainly be fixed, too.

That's the challenge for the Hoosiers. To fix it really is simple. You look to the guy to the left of you, and then the guy to the right of you, and you make a promise to them that you will work as hard as possible every single day to turn this around.

"Confidence is one thing, but also buy-in and being unselfish and caring about the guys in the locker room is probably the most important thing that we have going on right now,'' Miller said. "I think our team in general, probably like a lot of teams, has lost some confidence here of late. But typically, when you lose your confidence, you don't hold yourself accountable as individual players doing what we need to do to be successful every day.''

The difficulty with outsiders trying to put a spin on what's wrong is that you — and me too, I'll be honest with that — only see what happens during those 40 minutes on game days. There are a few conversations like Wednesday in between, but what goes on behind closed doors and just a guess for everyone.

Do they practice as hard as possible every day? We don't know. Do they buy in to changes the coaches try to make? We don't know that, either. And that's just the practice floor. What about the locker room, or the apartments, or the classroom? 

Where's the buy-in rate these days? And are all 11 guys on board? It sure doesn't look like it in those three losses at Penn State and Ohio State and Saturday at home against Purdue. (I don't count the Maryland loss because I thought Indiana played very well that day except for the last minute.)  

"I mean, you've got to stick together,'' Miller said. "You've got to fight through these things and, at the end of the day, when things get hard, if everyone is going to be a little bit more quiet, be a little bit more reserved and take things for granted to so speak, you're going to have a team there's not playing really well.

"For us, when we've played well, we've had great buy-in, we've had unbelievable contributions from everybody on the team and we're not asking to be real sophisticated: Play hard, rebound the ball, play great defense at times, have different guys step up and be unselfish, and at the end of the day, be committed to the next guy next to you.''

And that, folks, is exactly right. It's about that commitment to the guy next to you. Be accountable.

"That's what's most important when things go awry or they are not going well,'' Miller said. "I think our team in general has really got to focus in on each other, our unselfishness, our togetherness and we have to go through this thing together.

"At the end of the day, there's a lot of basketball to be played along the season, and sometimes you can lose your focus on the grind when things aren't going your way, and for us we have to recommit ourselves to one another.''

What has been obvious to those who watch the Hoosiers is that Miller has had a hard time finding five guys to play well at the same time. It's been a problem, really, most of the year. There were times where playing all 11 guys actually worked well at, because everyone contributed, or you stuck with the guys who did and benched the rest.

But there have been times where the bench guys have played poorly, and the team "gets stuck in the mud,'' which is one of Miller's favorite phrases. What's even worse is when the starters play poorly, and then a sub comes in and plays just as bad. Are they not prepared to play? Not engaged? Not playing their hardest?

There's this too, in analyzing all that's wrong. There is, most recently, this whole massive shadow of Bob Knight hanging over this program. Every time the Hoosiers play poorly, the trolls wish Miller would yell and scream and throw chairs like Knight did. 

Sorry, it doesn't work that way. And you ask a lot of those former players from some of Indiana's greatest teams through the years, and they will will tell that they have great leadership from teammates that held them just as accountable as Knight did.

And, quite frankly, Knight's teams that weren't as successful had exactly that same program, a roster full of guys that wouldn't buy in — and no one in that locker room would do anything about it.

"We need an engaged team with one another,'' Miller said. "We need our guys to stick with it, and with one another, and good things will happen. When you fracture and things don't go well, it's easy, it's easy to sit back in the shadow. Sometimes you need some guys to really grab a hold of the jerseys and the reins and say, 'You know, who am I bringing with me? I'm not going to be part of the problem. I'm going to be part of the solution.

"Come with me. I've got this, I've got to fix this. It's more about us. How do we fix us? When you want to fix us, it's usually a little easier and it works a little better when the us is all bought in and doing the right things and hanging in there.'' 

Miller has talked often about the fact that it's the coaches' team in October and November and December, but it's the players' team now. He's exactly right. They need to take the reins, and that starts Thursday against Iowa. 

They don't lead one leader, or two. 

They need 11, all pulling in the same direction.