1. Finding some frontline help - The addition of 6-6, 235-pound junior college forward Mike White was an important one for Sampson in his first month on the job. The Hoosiers' frontline was in dire straits for ‘06, and bringing in a player or two to help in the paint is absolutely imperative.
Indications are that 6-9, 242-pound sophomore D.J. White will be back in an IU uniform in the fall. While the Tuscaloosa, Ala., native hasn't said anything publicly to confirm he'll be back in Bloomington next season, he's been working out with the team on a daily basis, he's been going through all of IU's individual workouts, and it appears as if he'll be working Sampson's IU summer basketball camps as well. That all but says he'll be back.
But Cem Dinc appears to be gone for good, reportedly having left Bloomington at the close of the season for Europe, and he'll likely test himself in the European pro ranks next season. Fall signee Xavier Keeling has been non-committal about whether he'll be at IU in the fall, leaving only D.J. White, Mike White and sophomore Ben Allen as legitimate frontline, scholarship players for the '06-'07 season.
Sampson would probably like to add one more forward during the spring signing period, possibly 6-8, 205-pound Lance Stemler from Southwestern Illinois College, who will be visiting this weekend. But whether it's Stemler or someone else, Indiana still has some frontcourt needs that need to be addressed before the start of the '06-'07 season to shore up the team's depth.
2. 2007 recruiting – Next year's recruiting class is a very important one for Sampson. Indiana will likely lose starters Rod Wilmont and Earl Calloway at season's end, and there's a possibility D.J. White could be gone to the pro ranks as well if he has a big sophomore season. On paper, those three could potentially be the team's top three scorers in '06-'07, and the Hoosiers' two most recent recruiting classes haven't been top-25 caliber.
That makes the '07 class a big one for Sampson. Indications are the Hoosiers won't be able to get their foot in the door with the state's best player, North Central's Eric Gordon, who has re-affirmed his verbal commitment to Illinois and Coach Bruce Weber. But there are still plenty of solid in-state players, such as Valparaiso's Hummel and Scott Martin; East Chicago's E'twaun Moore; Franklin Central's JaJuan Johnson; Ft. Wayne Northside's Eshaunte Jones; and others. Sampson will also likely target nation names as well, all in an effort to re-establish the Hoosiers as the dominant force for in-state recruits, while also once again making Indiana a formidable foe on the national recruiting scene as well.
That's not necessarily an easy task, but Sampson was able to sign a top-five class in November at Oklahoma, and he wouldn't have departed the Big 12 school if he didn't think he could produce similar results on the recruiting trail in Bloomington.
3. NCAA fallout? – Sampson and IU Athletics Director Rick Greenspan traveled to Park City, Utah, last week to appear before the NCAA Infractions Committee. Oklahoma, Sampson, and now Greenspan are waiting to hear what further sanctions – if any – the NCAA will hand down after the Sooner program admitted to making more than 550 illegal phone calls to recruits from 2000-04.
At this point there's nothing else for Sampson, Greenspan or Indiana to do other than wait for the committee to hand down its ruling. Oklahoma put itself on two years' probation early on, while Sampson also had his salary frozen. Most seem to think that little else will come out of the matter for OU or Indiana, but there's always a chance that the NCAA could go in another direction. The committee is expected to hand down its final ruling in approximately a month, and if Sampson faces further recruiting restrictions in terms of off-campus visits, etc., that could be a big obstacle to Sampson's recruiting efforts and a public relations nightmare for Greenspan.
4. Establishing a foundation for 2006-07 – It might seem like making in-roads with the state's high school coaches or getting a commitment from Robbie Hummel is priority No. 1 for Sampson and his staff, but those things will come. Sampson has developed a reputation as a very good recruiter, and the additions of Jeff Meyer and Ray McCallum to his Indiana staff make it obvious that he'll roll out the red carpet to the state's high school coaches and players in an effort to get them to play in Bloomington.
But priority one for the new staff is taking a group of players that were very committed to former coach Mike Davis and his coaching staff and making them their own. One of the first things Sampson did was start some early-morning workouts, with some harsh consequences for anyone who showed up late. A couple of players quickly found out that he meant business in that regard, as Sampson took the first step in laying the groundwork for what his program was going to be about in terms of accountability and discipline.
One of the first things Sampson talked about when taking over in Bloomington was establishing an identity for the program, a calling card so to speak. His Oklahoma teams were known for their conditioning and relentless defense, and it figures to be the same at IU. Getting the players to buy into that during these individual workouts and over the summer is as important as anything Sampson hopes to get accomplished before practice officially opens in October.
5. Selling himself and his vision – Sampson and his staff are making their way around the state in an effort to re-connect with the state's high school coaches, but you can also expect to see Sampson making his way around the state during the summer in an effort to re-connect with IU fans as well. Whether that's golf outings, speaking engagements or what have you, the new IU coach will likely be making a slew of stops to try to win over an IU fan base that was originally split about his hiring.
But his task extends beyond just winning over some skeptical fans. It's become obvious that one of the top priorities for the IU program is some improvements to its basketball facilities, which have been largely untouched since the early 1970s. While that doesn't mean knocking down Assembly Hall and building a new basketball arena, it likely does mean looking into building a new practice facility nearby and perhaps re-doing the Assembly Hall weight room. To accomplish that Sampson and Greenspan will be talking to plenty of IU donors to sell them on the vision and to emphasize the importance of some facility improvements to keep IU competitive on the Big Ten and national level.
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