Bloomington, Ind. – The best of times also appear to be the worst of times for IU basketball.
Expectations are high. Coach Kelvin Sampson's Hoosiers were recently tabbed No. 9 in the ESPN/USA Today preseason poll, marking the first time in more than a decade they've had such a lofty October ranking. IU returns a potential All-American in the frontcourt in D.J. White, welcomes another in the backcourt in freshman Eric Gordon, and has enough other pieces in place to make talk of championships justified.
But those elevated expectations are matched by many fans' reservations.
For the second straight year, off-the-court recruiting issues have been a hot topic involving the program. Last year it involved Sampson's one-year recruiting ban thanks to more than 500 improper phone calls made by Sampson and his staff at Oklahoma. While the matter did sully IU's pristine image, it was shrugged off by many because the infractions were on someone else's watch and Sampson had pledged to "do things the right way" now that he was in Bloomington.
But less than 18 months after Sampson and IU Athletics Director Rick Greenspan appeared in front of the NCAA Infractions Committee, they appear destined to headed there once again. Over the summer an IU investigation uncovered more improper phone calls, a few of which appear to be in violation of Sampson's sanctions, a bunch more that were over and above the NCAA's allotted number of phone calls that can be made to prospective recruits.
Admittedly these aren't the just sinister of crimes committed by college coaches these days, but they're certainly cause for concern thanks to the potential fallout.
Sampson's defense has generally been that he was an unwitting accomplice, and much of the blame has been directed at IU Assistant Coach Rob Senderoff. Brought onto the IU staff in large part because of his reputation as a dogged recruiter, Senderoff's future on the IU sidelines now appears very much in doubt. He was missing from last Friday's open Assembly Hall practice, and IU officials offered a nondescript explanation of his whereabouts.
Unfortunately, there's also no signs of closure in sight. There's no timetable for an announcement from the NCAA if there is further punishment that will befall Sampson and the IU program, leaving many to hope for the best but fear the worst.
In the meantime, as much as the Hoosier coach might want to talk about the leadership of co-captains D.J. White and Lance Stemler, the versatility of JaMarcus Ellis, and the potential of Eli Holman, he's left to try to avoid, deflect and fend off inquiries about violations both past and present.
That happened again over the weekend, when Sampson wanted nothing more than to talk about his second IU team and their prospects for a Big Ten championship at the Big Ten Tip-Off Luncheon in Chicago. Instead, he spent a good portion of his Sunday afternoon trying to steer many a conversation away from the latest controversy and back to his ninth-ranked basketball team.
Sampson figures to get some sort of reprieve later this week when IU opens its exhibition season with a Sunday match-up against North Alabama. From there Indiana will embark on a non-conference schedule that includes 10 home games and only one road contest against an NCAA-caliber foe (at Southern Illinois, Dec. 1).
It's a favorable slate of games that figures to keep Indiana in the top 10 by the time the Big Ten slate opens Jan. 2. Of course, as IU maintains its ranking or potentially climbs even higher, the national spotlight will shine even brighter on everything that's been both right and, unfortunately, wrong with the program as of late.
Hoosier fans need to be prepared for a bumpy ride.
COMMENTARY: Bumpy Ride Ahead for IU Hoops
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