Bloomington, Ind. – As Kelvin Sampson prepares to lead the Hoosiers into the postseason, he knows just how special the 2006-07 campaign has been.
Admittedly, it's a stretch to think the Hoosiers will hoist the Big Ten Tournament trophy come Sunday when one considers they'd likely have to knock off a pair of top-five teams in Ohio State and Wisconsin. A 20-9 season is also a far cry from one of the most successful campaigns in the history of a program that has produced five national championships and is among the winningest in NCAA history.
But that doesn't dull the shine in Sampson's eyes – all things considered.
"For a lot of schools this might not be considered a great year," Sampson said Monday. "But for this year, for this team, this group of kids, and what they've been through the last two or three years, I couldn't be more happy for them."
Truth be told, when practice got underway in October, it was a stretch to think this team could win 20 regular season games and finish in third-place in the Big Ten.
First of all, IU had a new coach on the sidelines in Sampson. The former Oklahoma head man brought with him a hard-nosed intense approach that stood in stark contrast to what players had grown accustomed to under former Coach Mike Davis. Just how this group of players would respond to the new demands was anyone's guess.
Couple that with the fact Sampson had to replace starters Marco Killingsworth, Robert Vaden and Marshall Strickland, and he'd have to do that despite not having any major impact recruits set to arrive in the fall.
All the ingredients were there for a season to forget for Hoosier fans.
But despite its apparent shortcomings, Indiana has emerged from the regular season with its first 20-win regular season in six years, and its highest seed ever for the Big Ten Postseason Tournament.
"I'm ecstatic about what this team has been able to do, going 10-6 in this league," Sampson said.
Sampson is ecstatic for a couple of reasons. First of all, it lays the foundation for what appears to be a very promising future for the program under his guidance. With the likes of Eric Gordon, Jamarcus Ellis and Eli Holman, among others, set to arrive in the fall, the Hoosiers appear to be ready to begin competing for conference championships on a regular basis.
But the first-year Indiana coach is also happy for players such as Roderick Wilmont, Earl Calloway and Errek Suhr, three seniors who've been through a great deal during their time in Bloomington.
"I don't think there's a basket difference between about six teams (in the league), but the fact we finished 10-6 and won 20 games – when you watch the seniors the other night, you realize how happy you are for those kids," Sampson said. "It's their experience here at Indiana, and it's great being able to cap it off with this kind of year."
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