BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – In Rod Wilmont's mind, it's not going to be up to Coach Kelvin Sampson to convince D.J. White and Robert Vaden they should come back to Bloomington.
Instead, the senior-to-be thinks it's going to be up to those who have been around the two standouts for the last two seasons to accomplish that feat.
"I think it's not going to be the coach (that keeps White and Vaden at IU) but the players, like myself and A.J. (Ratliff)," Wilmont said. "We've been with them for a while. I'm going to try my best to get them back here."
In the aftermath of IU's introduction of Sampson as its next head coach, Wilmont said he had talked with both Vaden and White about the news. Those conversations, coupled with White's presence at the team meeting before last Wednesday's press conference, has Wilmont confident about the 6-9, 243-pound sophomore forward's decision.
"I feel DJ is going to come back," Wilmont said.
That would be extremely good news for Wilmont and an Indiana team that has very few options along the frontline. The Hoosiers were thin up front this season, and they lose honorable mention All-America forward Marco Killingsworth and fifth-year senior Sean Kline. There is also a great deal of speculation that 6'10" freshman Cem Dinc, who averaged 1.0 points in three games, will depart at season's end as well.
That leaves 6'11" sophomore-to-be Ben Allen (3.2 points, 1.7 rebounds, 10.0 minutes/game) as the only player on the Indiana roster as the only scholarship player standing 6'6" or taller. Indiana is still hoping 6'6" fall signee Xavier Keeling will join the team in the fall, but the fact remains without White, the Hoosiers will have a gaping hole on its frontline next season.
"D.J. is the best player, in my eyes, in the country," Wilmont said. "I'm more confident he'll be back. D.J. knows he's our go-to man and we need him to come back to get this done."
Vaden, meanwhile, is a different story. The 6'5" junior-to-be didn't attend the team's meeting last week, although he was in Assembly Hall afterwards. While Indiana has a trio of capable wings other than Vaden (Wilmont, Ratliff and redshirt freshman Joey Shaw), he would be the team's leading returnee in points, rebounds, assists, steals and 3-pointers if he does wind up coming back to play for Sampson.
"Robert, it's going to be hard, but I'm going to try my best," Wilmont said.
When asked what it would take to convince Vaden to come back to Bloomington, Wilmont joked that perhaps being an even bigger part of the offense would do the trick.
"I don't know (what it would take)," Wilmont said. "Tell him to take all the shots?"
If White and Vaden do return, Indiana has a chance to be a top-25 caliber team. White was a preseason All-Big Ten choice a year ago, and figures to be one of the league's best players next season. Vaden, Wilmont and Ratliff would give Sampson arguably the league's deepest stable of wings, while point guard Earl Calloway blossomed in the final month of the season to the point that former coach Mike Davis said he thinks Calloway could be an All-Big Ten caliber player next season.
Those players will likely bring an in-your-face aggressive defensive approach that was a staple of Sampson's Oklahoma teams for the last 12 years. Wilmont said he has a couple of friends who played at Oklahoma, and they've let him know what practice will be about next season.
"They said coach is hard-nosed and things are going to get done on the defensive end," Wilmont said. "That's how you win games, on the defensive end. We have guys on this team that can score."
Yes they do, at least as of right now.
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