Knight, who spent 29 years at IU before departing in 2000, now stands three wins away from becoming the winningest coach in Division I basketball history. The current Texas Tech coach has 877 victories, putting him just two behind former North Carolina coach Dean Smith for the all-time record.
"I think every coach in the country is pulling for Coach Knight because of what he's meant to the college game," Sampson said.
Of course, Knight meant a great deal to the success and prestige of the basketball program that Sampson now oversees in Bloomington. Knight compiled 661 of those victories during his time at IU, a run that included 11 Big Ten titles and national championship runs in 1976, 1981 and 1987.
Sampson's links to Knight aren't limited to their ties to Indiana basketball, as Sampson coached against Knight's Texas Tech teams during the last six years while both were in Big 12. But even if the two coaches paths weren't so intertwined, Sampson said he'd still be an interested on-looker as Knight inches closer to becoming the game's winningest coach.
"You didn't have to know Coach Knight to be influenced by him," Sampson said. "The discipline, the way his teams played, how smart they played…I remember watching Indiana a lot, and always being respectful of the way they played when he was here."
The style of basketball made a lasting impact on not only Sampson, but a whole generation of basketball coaches, according to the current IU head coach. He said the success that Knight, Smith and former Georgetown Coach John Thompson enjoyed during the late 1970s and 1980s made a big impression on a large group of coaches who are now enjoying success in the college game.
Knight continues to enjoy his own success as well. Since leaving Indiana in 2000, he's compiled a 113-64 record in five-plus seasons in Lubbock, including four seasons of at least 20 wins. That includes an 8-3 start to the 2006-07 campaign that has moved the 41-year head coaching veteran to within a couple wins of tying Smith for the record.
The discipline of Knight's teams have always been front-and-center in the eyes of most college basketball fans, but there was another trait that stood out to Sampson as well.
"The role play," Sampson said. "Everyone had a role on those teams, and his teams always rebounded and defended."
And they won. That sort of success helped make IU one of the college game's marquee programs, which is one of the things that lured Sampson from Oklahoma last spring. Now that he's in Bloomington, Sampson is trying to play his part in restoring the Hoosier program to prominence nationally.
"I think over the years, Indiana basketball has come to stand for a certain thing, and I'm trying to play my part, through our team, and just do the best we can," Sampson said.