Hoosiers may forced to hang up on Sampson Print
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Wednesday, 20 February 2008 00:17
NCAAB Headline News


 His kids stood up when it counted most, but they don't have a vote on Kelvin Sampson's future.
More telling is that all the other people who defended him four months ago stayed glued to their seats this time around.
There's nothing like a rivalry game to let you know where a team is at, and Indiana's 77-68 win over in-state antagonist Purdue spoke volumes. The Hoosiers battled nerves from the opening tip, committed 23 turnovers to just five for the Boilermakers, but offset that by posting just-as-big margins in rebounding, 46-30, and shooting percentages from the floor and the line.
In short, they hustled when it mattered and played with poise at the end, and in the middle of it all was senior D.J. White, which should have surprised no one. Sampson could be suspended in the next few days as a prelude to being fired because of the way he recruited players. The shame is that the widening scandal his serial phone-calling caused is obscuring the teaching job Sampson always does once he gets his man.
He didn't recruit White, instead inheriting the big man from his predecessor, Mike Davis. No matter. In his first year in charge, Sampson lit a fire under the talented, but undisciplined youngster, and sparked him to the cusp of stardom. Then he convinced White to stick around one more season and work even harder, transforming him into a potential Big Ten player of the year and an almost-certain NBA first-round pick.
Small wonder then, that White, shrugged off a gimpy knee to start Tuesday night and turned in 19 points and 15 rebounds.
``There was a lot riding on this game,'' he said afterward. ``We have a chance to do something special here.''
The Hoosiers are 4-1 since the school was forced to reveal the NCAA was hot on Sampson's trail and that further, much more severe penalties might be on the way. When word broke in October he was up to the same tricks that got him in trouble at Oklahoma, the administration at Indiana and more than a few members of the fraternity rushed to his defense.
Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun was in the front of that pack, having spent plenty of time working with Sampson when he headed the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
``What he did was dumb, by any stretch of the imagination,'' Calhoun said at the time. ``He broke the same rule, not once but twice, and he should suffer the consequences.
``But firing him? That's nuts. ... In our business, there's a difference between someone who breaks a rule and people who cheat - who use means that make me ashamed to be a coach - to get a recruit.
``I know Kelvin well enough,'' he added, ``to know he's not one of those guys.''
Judging by the phone records the NCAA looked at, and follow-up conversations with some of Sampson's recruits, investigators were left to conclude the violations were due to arrogance or stupidity, and his record at every stop in his career pretty much ruled out the latter.
The sheer volume of calls he made at Indiana - more than 100 impermissible calls, even as he was still on probation for making 577 improper calls between 2000 and 2004 while coaching Oklahoma - proved Sampson still didn't think much of the rule. And the initial response of both the school and colleagues like Calhoun suggested they weren't much more impressed.
But as in so many other instances, the cover-up proved more vexing than the original sin. By the time the NCAA finished the report made public last week, Sampson was accused of providing false information to both university and NCAA investigators and fostering an atmosphere of noncompliance across the program.
The hit he already took was considerable - Sampson forfeited a $500,000 bonus for this season after getting caught, marking the third time in as many years that talking on the phone has cost him a small fortune - but that was a calculated gamble. Lying about it takes the game to a whole new level.
A sideline reporter caught Sampson as he walked off the floor, and he declined to talk about what could happen next. Indiana has a self-appointed deadline of Friday to decide whether to suspend him or fire him, knowing that the more it punishes the program, the less the NCAA is likely to add.
The school voluntarily forfeited a scholarship for next season and one of Sampson's assistants has departed. Complicating matters further is that if the NCAA deems Indiana's self-punishment doesn't go far enough, a team that might be good enough to make the Final Four could be banned from the postseason altogether.
Sampson said he expects to be on the sideline for Saturday's game against Northwestern, and for plenty more after that. He wouldn't elaborate.
``I think the way our team is playing,'' he said, ``answers all the questions.''
Just the opposite, though, is true. The NCAA will assume the success of Sampson's teams was built on a foundation of illicit recruiting schemes and punish him that way. The people who hired him and most of the guys he competes against know it's because he's an exceptional coach. But because Sampson's stubbornness blurred that distinction, not one of them would dare make that argument now.
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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org.
 

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