Bloomington, Ind. – Kelvin Sampson has weathered his first Indiana storm.
The first-year Hoosier coach arrived in Bloomington last spring with the sort of credentials that convinced IU Athletic Director Rick Greenspan he was the right man to replace Mike Davis on the IU bench. After all, a pair of National Coach of the Year honors coupled with 11 trips to the NCAA tourney in his 12 years at Oklahoma suggested, at least on paper, he could return IU to national prominence.
But Sampson's first couple of months in Bloomington were spent playing defense. A pending NCAA investigation from his stay at Oklahoma - and subsequent recruiting restrictions placed on him by the NCAA Infractions Committee – had many wondering what, exactly, Greenspan had been thinking.
As if Sampson's one-year off-campus recruiting ban wasn't enough to make IU fans uneasy, Purdue Coach Matt Painter added insult to injury by seemingly plucking each and every quality in-state recruit who was still available. Franklin Central's JaJuan Johnson was first, followed by East Chicago's E'twaun Moore and the Valpairaso duo of Robbie Hummel and Scott Martin.
That didn't sit well with an IU fan base that had watched elite homegrown players such as Sean May, Rodney Carney, Josh McRoberts, Greg Oden and Mike Conley all turn down IU scholarship offers and ultimately opt out of playing their collegiate basketball in-state.
But the storm cloud that had seemingly followed Sampson around town for the better part of five months has departed, replaced by an energized fan base and a seemingly bright future.
It started with some successes on the recruiting front. Commitments from Chicago Public League products Brandon McGee and Jamarcus Ellis not only gave IU a pair of top-100 players in its '07 class, but suggested Sampson might be able to tap into the talent-laden Windy City talent pool that's largely been off limits to the IU program. That was followed up by the commitment of 6-9, 210-pound Eli Holman, an athletic frontcourt player from California who addressed a pressing need on the IU frontline.
It continued Friday at Midnight Madness, when approximately 14,000 fans turned out to see what was in store for 2006-07. In addition to witnessing the return of D.J. White and the debut of newcomers Mike White, Lance Stemler, Armon Bassett and Xavier Keeling, IU fans were able to hear Sampson specifically address a couple of things he's been questioned about the most in recent months.
"I want you to understand three things we're going to do," Sampson told the crowd. "First thing…we're going to graduate our players. Number two, we're going to follow the rules and do things right. Number three we're going to compete our butts off to make you proud of us every single night."
While that certainly resonated with IU fans, the biggest coup of Sampson's brief tenure was the recent announcement that Indianapolis guard Eric Gordon was backing out of his verbal commitment to Illinois and instead planned to sign with the Hoosiers next month. With that announcement, Sampson put to rest any thoughts the Hoosiers' recruiting efforts would be crippled due to his off-campus restrictions, and it also brought an end to the recent run of Hoosier in-state recruiting failures.
According to Scout.com National Recruiting Director Dave Telep, Gordon's commitment is huge for a couple of reasons.
"The commitment of Eric Gordon does two things - it gives the Hoosiers an elite talent to hang their hat on, and secondly it gives Sampson a lot of street cred to walk into not only the homes of in-state players but across the country," Telep said.
That was already becoming apparent Friday night when 12-15 recruits from the 2007-10 classes were courtside for Hoosier Hysteria. While Gordon and Holman received the most attention thanks to their verbals to IU, elite youngsters such as Angel Garcia, Phillip Jurick, Nick Fruendt, Bud Mackey, Luke Fabrizias and Stephan VanTreese were among those highly-coveted future prospects who welcomed the chance to come to Bloomington to get an up-close look at what Sampson's program is going to be all about.
Gordon's commitment is the biggest piece of positive news during Sampson's time in town, and Telep says it will only get better from here for IU once Scout.com's second-ranked player in the '07 class sets foot on the Assembly Hall floor beginning next season.
"The big hit comes down the road when Gordon hits the court and the rest of the nation gets a chance to see what the No. 1 shooting guard in the nation can do in the fall of 2007," Telep said.
Gordon Decision Helps Sampson Weather Storm
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