Sampson Won't Waver on Wilmont

Despite the occasionally questionable choice of shots, IU coach Kelvin Sampson still loves what he's been getting from fifth-year senior Rod Wilmont...

There are a few things Kelvin Sampson has learned about senior Rod Wilmont.

He's not the most skilled player he's ever coached, and his 16 assists in 17 games says something about his ball distribution skills. When it comes to the senior's shot selection, well, even the most suspect of 3-point attempts is sometimes better received than a Wilmont post feed.

"You can't rebound a turnover," Sampson said.

But in spite of the handful of things the Miramar, Fla., does with regularity that leave on-lookers wondering why, he's still started all but three games this season and ranks second on the team in scoring (11.0), rebounding (6.3) and minutes played (26.8/game).

Why? Because Sampson knows there's more good than bad, and there are traits Wilmont possesses that helps define what this team is and how far it can go.

"Rod's not afraid," said Sampson, whose team returns to action Saturday at 3:45p.m. against Connecticut.

That was obvious in the Hoosiers'84-74 win at Penn State, the team's first road victory of the season. His 20-point first half kept the Hoosiers from getting blown out by the Nittany Lions early on, and he finished with career-highs of 25 points and 12 rebounds while attempting a school-record 17 3-pointers.

Sampson knows there are some areas Wilmont could be better, but he's ultimately decided that it's best to let Rod be Rod.

"He's not going to be like John Stockton," Sampson said. "He's not going to play the game like guys that are so fundamentally sound they make the game look easy. That's not who he is, and he's a fifth-year senior. When I started coaching him, I decided I'm not going to transform him."

What Sampson's tried to do, though, is get Wilmont to use his energy and effort to contribute in other areas. There was a time when Wilmont was little more than streaky shooter off the bench, someone who gave his team something when his shot was falling, but was a liability when it wasn't. Now, he's among the Big Ten leaders with 6.3 rebounds/game, more than double his career average of 3.0. He's had four games with double figure rebounding totals, including two of the last three (Purdue, Penn State).

And that – coupled with his infectious enthusiasm – makes this coaching disciplinarian a bit more tolerant of some errant shots that he could normally do without.

"He will throw up some ill-advised shots," Sampson said. "(But) if you tell a kid they can't throw an interception, just dump it off to a back every time or throw a screen pass every time, he will never throw a touchdown pass. Rod's an aggressive kid, and you have to let him make a mistake."

Wilmont has also welcomed Sampson's tutelage, something that doesn't always happen among upperclassmen when there's a coaching change.

"He loves you got get on him," Sampson said. "He never reacts. His body language is always great. He loves to be coached.

"He's a special kid. He's one of those kids who if you don't know him or look at the things he does, all you do is wind up seeing what's wrong with him. I think Rod's special. A great kid to coach and a great young man."

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