BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Kelvin Sampson has been on the job for less than 24 hours, but he already needs to start formulating a plan for taking care of his back yard.
Of course, when you're the coach at IU, that backyard is the entire state of Indiana. One of the most important things for the newly-named Hoosier head coach to accomplish is to map out a strategy to attract the majority of the state's top high school players to Bloomington.
There's been a bumper crop of talented homegrown Hoosiers in recent years, but IU hasn't been successful in keeping them close to home. While former Coach Mike Davis did sign Robert Vaden and Mr. Basketball A.J. Ratliff in 2003, there have been many more than have gotten away.
Indiana products Josh McRoberts (Duke), Sean May (North Carolina), Luke Zeller (Notre Dame), Greg Oden (Ohio State) and Mike Conley (Ohio State) are four big names that rebuffed overtures from Indiana. Recently-named Big East Freshman of the Year Dominic James (Marquette) and second-team All-American Rodney Carney (Memphis) are a pair of in-state talents that IU either overlooked or misjudged during the recruiting process.
While losing in-state players wasn't a new phenomenon for just Mike Davis – Indiana missed on elite prospects like Eric Montross, Chris Thomas and Jason Gardner before Davis' arrival – it's a problem that needs to be addressed.
That job falls to Sampson and presumably Ray McCallum, the former Ball State head coach who was an assistant for Sampson at Oklahoma. While no details have been announced about Sampson's Indiana coaching staff, it would appear to be a no-brainer that McCallum will be headed to Bloomington as well.
Scout.com national recruiting director Dave Telep says Sampson will find it's much easier to recruit at Indiana than it was at Oklahoma, a school where Sampson won 279 games in 12 years.
"It should be a lot easier (to recruit to Indiana)," Telep said. "Obviously there is a strong natural recruiting base within the borders of Indiana and the region."
Sampson had a great deal of success at Oklahoma targeting junior college players, but he said that strategy won't necessarily follow him to Bloomington. While Sampson says there's nothing wrong with recruiting junior college players, it won't be his primary strategy by any means.
"Fortunately, we have some of the best high school coaches in America right here in our state, Indiana," Sampson said. "The first thing I am going to try to do is to get the best players in Indiana to come to Indiana University."
Sampson will also be looking for in-state players that are good fits for his style of play. Telep says there is a type that works best under Sampson.
"He likes tough guys," Telep said. "Guys who value getting stops. Guys who like contact. He'll give his best players freedom on offense if they earn it (i.e. Hollis Price), but grit and versatility are his trademarks."
While being at Oklahoma presented some unique recruiting challenges, that could prove to be beneficial at IU. Sampson assembled Scout.com's fifth-ranked recruiting class last fall, showing the ability to recruit talented local players (Oklahoma City's Keith Clark, ranked No. 46 nationally by Scout.com), regional players (Texas' Damion James, ranked No. 17 nationally) and national players (Virginia's Scottie Reynolds, ranked No. 31 nationally).
"He's diverse," Telep said. "He's done it in a number of ways – high school and junior college. I think he does a very good job evaluating for his program and identifying the kind of kids that can be successful in his hard-nosed, defensive-minded attack. Guys like playing for him and he's a winner."
Of course, all of those players have signed letters of intent for Oklahoma and won't be following Sampson to Bloomington. Instead, Sampson will have a small window to try to scour the high school and junior college ranks for a player or two to sign in April.
Near the top of that list will likely be Texas' Darrell Arthur, a McDonald's All-American who was high on Indiana while Davis was still the coach. His interest in Indiana vanished once Davis decided to step down, but he had Oklahoma in his top five recently, suggesting the door might be open a little bit for Sampson.
"Obviously the best case would be Darrell Arthur but that would be a long shot," Telep said. "I think making sure D.J. White is happy is a priority recruit for Sampson. Finding a big guy who can come in and make some sort of an impact or contribution more than a role player is a tall order."
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