BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Maurice Creek spent the last 21 months trying to get back onto the basketball court so he could show Indiana fans what he can still do.
He gave them a brief glimpse Saturday night.
The 6-foot-5 junior, who has been beset by three season-ending leg injuries, danced into Saturday night's madhouse at Assembly Hall, received a rousing ovation and then showed he still has the shooter's touch.
"I'm feeling great, it's great to be out here," Creek said before jogging over to hug his mother. "Everybody's supported me and I'm happy to be back, thank you."
It's been a long-time coming for a guy who was supposed to be one of the cornerstones of Indiana's rebuilding project.
After enduring three straight season-ending leg injuries, seeing the Maryland native back active was the most compelling moment on the night Indiana officially embarked on its most anticipated season in a decade.
Over the past four years, fans came to Indiana's version of Midnight Madness, for various reasons — to support a team that had been gutted in the wake of an NCAA scandal, that was trying to rebuild and that seemed to be on the precipice of something big after Creek decided to shrug off the 6-25 mark Tom Crean compiled in his first season and join the Hoosiers.
This time, they came to see a team being hyped as a national championship contender.
The difference from previous years was clear.
Despite pushing opening night festivities back one week because Indiana's students were on fall break last week, and to give recruits a chance to visit campus after attending other places last weekend, every seat inside Assembly Hall was filled for the first time in the history of the event.
Some students started camping out Friday afternoon despite steady rain and chilly temperatures. When the doors opened at about 4 p.m., three hours before player introductions, the lines were snaking around the arena and quickly moved inside for autographs and Hoosiers merchandise.
The coveted tickets disappeared in about one hour and everyone else was turned away.
"Just because we were down doesn't mean that people weren't trying to get us," Crean told the crowd. "There were people that didn't want to see it, they didn't want to see it (the program) come back. It is coming back. It is back."
Creek was back to, savoring every second of a celebration he has far too often had to witness from the sideline.
When Christian Watford hit the 3-pointer that beat Kentucky and put Indiana basketball back on the national map, Creek was only a few feet away — in street clothes.
It's been that kind of career for Creek, who started fast as a freshman and appeared destined for a big career.
But during a December game in 2009, Creek landed awkwardly on breakaway lay-in and was later diagnosed with a season-ending broken left kneecap. Thirteen months later, in almost the exact same spot, he caught a long inbound pass, scored on a layup and crashed to the floor. Doctors diagnosed him with a stress fracture in his right kneecap, ending that season and sending him back to rehab again.
Then, when it appeared Creek was ready to come back a second time, he slipped and fell down the stairs in October, tearing his left Achilles tendon and costing him yet another season. He arrived for last year's big preseason event on crutches.
Now, after all of that, Creek is back yet again. He was cleared by team doctors to run through full practices weeks ago, insists he's left the past behind and insists he has no fear about sustaining yet another injury.
"I don't think it changes your way of life," he said. "All you can do is pray for a healthy season and a full-go season."
There's still no guarantee Creek will return to his pre-injury form, though teammates insist that Creek has looked good throughout the summer and over the past week at practice, and if the old Mo is back, it will make the Hoosiers even better than expected.
"He look great, getting better every single day with rehab and playing with us," guard Jordan Hulls said. "I think people have forgotten about Mo, and I think he's going to make us better as a basketball team."
All Creek really wants to do, after averaging 11.5 points in 30 career games, is help his teammates win and give those fans who supported him through the injuries a performance they won't forget.
"I've got some things that I've got to show because I haven't been on the court in a long time," he said. "I feel better than I did two years ago, and I feel a lot stronger and a lot bigger. I feel like I'm back where I should be, and, yeah, the shot's still good."