BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Sooner or later, Indiana Basketball was bound to find its man.
Indiana University introduced former Oklahoma Sooner Coach Kelvin Sampson as its next men's basketball coach Wednesday, ending weeks of drama and speculation about who would replace Mike Davis. Sampson agreed to a seven-year contract that will pay him $1.5 million annually.
The 50-year-old Sampson comes to Indiana from Oklahoma, where he compiled a 279-109 record in 12 years. A 23-year college head coaching veteran, Sampson said it wasn't an easy decision to depart the Big 12 school, but the lure of IU was too much to ignore.
"I came to Indiana for one reason – I think you can win championships at Indiana," Sampson said at McCracken Court. "When you think about Indiana basketball, you think about a place that has not just championships, but championship tradition. Tradition is important. You can't create it. It has to be something that's happened over time."
Sampson arrived in Bloomington Tuesday night and met late into the evening with Greenspan and IU President Dr. Adam Herbert. On Wednesday afternoon, he met with the IU team before his press conference, a meeting that he said was important for both parties.
"I just met with the team and I want you to know how therapeutic that was," Sampson said. "I need to coach a team, and I think the team needs a coach. And I told them we really needed each other, especially right now."
Rod Wilmont, for one, was glad to meet with Sampson and to have the coaching search over with.
"I'm just glad all of this is out of the way and we have a coach," Wilmont said. "The meeting was a great meeting. We have a great team coming back, with D.J. (White), (Robert) Vaden, A.J. (Ratliff), myself, Earl (Calloway). If those guys come back, that's a big-time group right there. We have guys with experience, we've been to the tournament.
"I think we're going to have an interesting year next year."
It's far from a foregone conclusion, though, that everyone will be back. While White was in attendance and appears to be open to the idea of returning, notably absent from the team meeting was sophomore Robert Vaden. Along with White, Vaden has strong suggested that he might transfer in the aftermath of Mike Davis' departure, and his absence Wednesday only added fuel to that fire.
"Robert, being himself, after everything that happened, he didn't feel like it was right for him to be here today," Wilmont said. "The team will talk to him, and hopefully we can get him back for next year."
No matter who it is that Sampson has at his disposal next year, he's already come up with a top priority for the team, and that's to develop a calling card for Indiana basketball.
"The number one thing we want to do at Indiana University…is I think good or bad, we're all known for something, and that something is going to be your identity," Sampson said. "We have to have an identity."
Part of doing that is getting Indiana and its players to commit to doing a couple of things on the court and away from it.
"There are two things I try to get our players to understand on a daily basis," Sampson said. "There are two things that you can control in your life, and that's your attitude and your effort. The ball isn't always going to go in…their attitude and effort are the things that we'll really get after them about and try to establish."
While Sampson comes to Bloomington with a winning track record, he also arrives with a little bit of baggage. The Oklahoma basketball program has been in the news on occasion because of sub-par graduation rates, and Oklahoma is also in the midst of an NCAA investigation into more than 500 illegal phone calls that were made to recruits from 2000-04. Oklahoma put itself on two year's probation in the aftermath, while the NCAA Infractions Committee is supposed to issue a final ruling April 21.
Herbert addressed those issues Wednesday, and feels comfortable that it wasn't a big enough issue to keep Sampson from being IU's next head coach.
"We have looked at the recent NCAA investigation of the basketball program at Oklahoma University," Herbert said. "We've interviewed the parties that are most knowledgeable about that case to better understand the issues and to place the situation into the proper context.
"After reviewing all of this information, after considering the totality of his high level of performance over an entire professional career, and after engaging in several hours of candid and thorough conversation with him, we're convinced that our new coach understands fully and is determined to meet Indiana University's high overall expectations."
Sampson reiterated he is committed to players succeeding in the classroom and to abiding by the strict letter of the NCAA laws, insisting he's committed to seeing success on the court and off of it.
"I understand what Indiana University stands for and I'm sure that in the coming months and years, I'll understand it even more," Sampson said. "I'm one of you now. I'm a Hoosier."
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