Bloomington, Ind. – These are supposed to be good times for Tipton's Derek Elston.
After all, the 6'8" junior is one of the top-100 players in his class, someone who has already verbally committed to play at Indiana. But the IU program now finds itself in the middle of a firestorm due to the NCAA's allegations of five major recruiting violations committed by Kelvin Sampson's staff. Those charges have Sampson's future in Bloomington very much in doubt.
While that weighs on Elston's mind, so does the fact he was mentioned in the NCAA's Notice of Allegations, released by IU last week. The fifth of the NCAA's charges of wrongdoing involves IU's pursuit of Elston. Specifically, it says the IU staff gave him a bag and t-shirt at the conclusion of his participation in an Elite Camp last summer, and that the staff made inappropriate recruiting contact with him during the camp.
Representatives from the NCAA went to Tipton H.S. and sat down with the 17-year-old for approximately 90 minutes to discuss the situation before issuing its report, so Elston wasn't shocked to see his name in print. But it's still had an impact.
"I had been having a really good year, and right as soon as this stuff hit the air, I haven't been playing the same," Elston said.
After starting the year 15-0 and climbing to the top spot in the state's Class 2A rankings, Tipton dropped two of its last three to slip to No. 3 in the polls heading into the tournament. Elston has struggled as well, averaging only 10.3 points in those last three games. In losses to Northwestern H.S. and Frankfort H.S. he made just 8-of-37 shots from the floor.
"I've been hearing a lot of stuff from other cheer sections, and it's been kind of frustrating," Elston said.
Elston has leaned on his high school coach Travis Daugherty, as well as his family for support. He's also been able to talk to IU Assistant Coach Jeff Meyer to try to get a clearer picture of what's going on in Bloomington.
His conversations with Meyer have helped.
"I've been calling him and seeing what's going on, and he's step-by-step telling me what's going on and being real truthful with me," Elston said. "He's helping me through it and I love him for that.
"His message to me has been to not worry about it. They know that I haven't done anything wrong."
To avoid the appearance of any wrongdoing on his part, Elston said they sent a check for the value of the items he received - $20. Now, he's waiting to see what unfolds before he comes to any conclusions about his college basketball future.
But barring an extremely heavy-handed approach by the NCAA, Elston still expects to play for the Hoosiers.
"I've talked to my dad about some of the issues, and if they don't get to go to the tournament for a couple of years, then we may have to reconsider," Elston said. "But otherwise, I'm fully committed there."
IU officials might decide that Sampson isn't the right coach to be in charge of the program as early as Friday. IU Athletic Director Rick Greenspan is conducting a seven-day investigation into the new claims of wrongdoing levied by the NCAA, one of which involves Elston. Elston said he has not spoken to anyone from IU since it began its follow-up investigation on Friday.
Greenspan is to give IU President Michael McRobbie a recommendation on Sampson's future Friday, and that could very well lead to Sampson's ouster. But even if that is the case, Elston said he could still see himself playing in Bloomington even if there is a coaching change.
"I still love Indiana," Elston said. "I've been around them enough to know that's the right place for me."
While the IU situation unfolds, Elston is trying to get his mind right as his high school team gears up for the start of the state tournament. Tipton (16-2) opens with Eastern (2-16) in the first round of the Tipton sectionals, followed by a likely match-up with Taylor (11-6) in round two.
Tipton Coach Travis Daugherty has been doing his best to keep his standout junior from being distracted by what's going on at IU.
"He'd give me notes during school, and during practice he'll set me in his office and talk about it," Elston said. "It is a help, but some of the stuff hits home and I think about it a lot.
"It is kind of frustrating, and it gets to a point where it hits hard, real hard. But my coach keeps telling me that I'm 17, that I should be having fun. They try to tell me not to worry about it, but in some cases it's hard not to."
Elston Caught in the Middle
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