Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Chatting With The Enemy

PJS Note: I teamed with John at The Hoosier Report in a get-to-know-the-enemy question and answer session. John tells us about the expectations of IU fans, the perception of Kelvin Sampson and he even thinks the Gophers will win tonight! I'm posting the first half of the Q & A here. The second half with predictions will be posted at The Hoosier Report.

Paging Jim Shikenjanski: On one Minnesota message board, some fans are calling the Indiana-Minnesota game Thursday night a "phone out." They plan to bring cell phones and wave them (and perhaps play interesting ring tones) at Kelvin Sampson, who we all know likes to bend NCAA rules on phone calls. At least when Bobby Knight embarrassed IU it was entertaining. What do you make of this tomfoolery?

The Hoosier Report: I'm disappointed, obviously. IU fans are as proud as the program's scandal-free history as we are of the five NCAA championship banners. When Sampson was hired, most of us were willing to forgive the transgressions that occurred at Oklahoma as long as nothing of the sort happened at IU. Now, obviously it has happened at IU. What's sad is that I really do think Sampson was making a good faith effort to avoid violating the sanctions. During the entire no-call period that stretched from May 2006 to May 2007, Sampson didn't make a single outgoing call on his IU-issued cell phone. I'm not just talking about calls to recruits. He was so paranoid that he didn't make a single outgoing call on the phone, period. In light of that, it's unthinkable to me that Sampson would have staked his career on ten three-way calls. Still, what happened happened, and the fact that assistants were making unlogged calls from their home phones shows a shocking lack of leadership and oversight on Sampson's part and on the part of the athletic department. I don't know how things are going to turn out, and the whole affair casts a shadow over what should be IU's best season in 15 years. At this point, I don't think Sampson should be dismissed, but if the NCAA investigation finds more, I certainly could get to that position.

On the other hand, I am somewhat amused about the indignation from fans of Big Ten programs whose coaches have done far worse in the not-so-distant past. Indeed, Minnesota's students need only look up at that 1997 Final Four banner to be reminded...oh, wait, it's not there anymore.

The late 1990s scandal does have some relation to my first question. Dan Monson, in eight seasons in Minneapolis, never quite got the Gophers back on track. How much of that do you relate to the NCAA sanctions and how much to Monson? Also, the knock on Tubby during his later years at Kentucky was recruiting. How is that going, and generally, what do you think is the program's ceiling under Smith's leadership?

Paging Jim Shikenjanski: Yes, yes, our fan base deserves to be reminded of the season that wasn't when we gleefully revel in the unfortunate circumstances at other institutions. But after a decade of futility, in part because of those sanctions, I think we can be forgiven for being proud that once again we have a program poised to compete by playing by the rules.And that's why Dan Monson was hired in the first place. He came to Minnesota from Gonzaga, where he, not Mark Few, had done the hard work necessary to make a previously unknown program into a national contender.

In hindsight, Monson probably shouldn't have taken the job. He had to overcome hurdles presented by considerable sanctions and repair the reputation of a recently-on-top program. While he was able to clean up the program, he could never deliver in a couple areas. Alumni and media types questioned his ability to develop players. And Monson never seemed to have control of his team. Good players transferred. Others left the Gophers for the NBA far too early--think Rick Rickert and Joel Pryzbilla who is just now performing at the highest level.

Monson was dealt a bad hand at the university, but he didn't do much of anything to gain traction aside from clean up the program. Now that Tubby Smith is on board, the atmosphere surrounding the program has done a 180 degree turn. Despite his reputation as a lacadasical recruiter at UK, Tubby has brought in a top-10 to top-20 class nationally, led by 6'10" standout Ralph Sampson III, the son of the former Virginia great, who was recruited by Billy Gillispie, among others. In mere months, Tubby has turned Williams Arena into Minneapolis' hottest ticket, delivered a top notch recruiting class and is off to a fine start on the court as well.

The program's ceiling under Tubby? He can transform the program into a perennial Big Ten contender.

And what about at IU? Any buyer's remorse on Sampson, aside from phone call gate? And speaking of recruiting, does Illinois coach Bruce Weber have reason to be so upset over the recruitment of Eric Gordon? Finally, I'll pose the same question to you: What's the ceiling for a Sampson-led IU program?

The Hoosier Report From the public's perspective, Sampson came out of nowhere. None of the talking heads mentioned him until he already had been hired. I think there were a couple of reasons that he wasn't on the radar screen: 1) the NCAA stuff and 2) he lost a Final Four game to Mike Davis. Still, I have been pleasantly surprised and I think that the vast majority of IU fans have embraced the on-court version of Sampson. His stern, defensive minded approach, his even keel, and the like have been a breath of fresh air.

As for the ceiling, the expectations at IU are high. IU fans expect the program to compete for the Big Ten title more often than not and to make a run at the NCAA championship at least occasionally. Can Sampson get there? Well, in 12 years at Oklahoma, a B-list program, he won over 70 percent of his games, won a couple of conference titles, and went to the Final Four. I think it's reasonable to think that Sampson, at a school where basketball is king and with more recruiting advantages, can make IU a top 10 caliber program. That's if the NCAA stuff doesn't get in the way.

One of the reasons that I do think Sampson can win big at IU is that he has recruiting advantages that he hasn't had before, which leads to the Eric Gordon discussion. Another unfortunate aspect about Sampson's NCAA trouble is that it prevents an honest discussion about the Gordon issue. Because Sampson has NCAA trouble on his resume, the Gordon recruitment is lumped in with other "dishonesty" and "shenanigans." That's unfortunate, because I think all of this "coaching fraternity" stuff is bunk.

The whole idea of it really boggles the mind. Kelvin Sampson is paid over a million dollars a year to coach IU's basketball program. Eric Gordon is Indiana born and raised and would have strongly considered IU but for the coaching situation. He committed to Illinois long before most kids his age were gathering college applications, let alone making final decisions. If this whole "coaching fraternity" canard is to be believed, then Kelvin Sampson owes a higher duty to Bruce Weber, his highly paid counterpart at a competitor school, than he owes to the institution that pays him handsomely or to a 17 year old kid who has changed his mind about where to go to college.

I think it might have been nice if Sampson had called Weber, but I don't think it was a moral or ethical requirement. It was obvious to anyone with multiple brain cells during the summer of 2006 that Gordon was considering IU. Keep in mind, a verbal commitment is a two way street. If Bruce Weber wanted to do so, he could have told Gordon, "look Eric, you say you're still going to Illinois, but I keep reading about your trips to Bloomington. I'm going to open up your scholarship and give it to the first kid who will give me a firm commitment, whether it's you or someone else." Weber didn't do that. He gambled and lost. Weber put lots of time into the Gordon recruitment, and the Illini certainly could use someone who can shoot, but I think he should stop acting like a two year-old. I would have expected any new IU coach to test the strength of Gordon's commitment to Illinois. The NCAA legislates everything from the number of pages in the media guide to the to-the-second length of official visits, no contact periods, evaluation periods, and on and on and on. The absence of a rule about recruiting committed players says something.

On to my question, I've seen a bunch of games in Assembly Hall and a handful at Mackey Arena, but none in any other Big Ten venue. The only one that I am absolutely dying to see is the Barn. They aren't really going to replace it, are they? Didn't you guys learn your lesson with the football stadium? I haven't heard anything since Tubby's initial comments. How was the idea received by Minnesota fans?

Head to The Hoosier Report for our thoughts on the keys to the game, predictions and more.


From the Barn said...

At least Minnesota fired the coaching staff and half the athletic department after our...issues, and the ensuing investigation went federal. IU has welcomed a repeat cheater with open arms. Integrity.

Big Boy Lake said...

Another uneducated and uninformed comment...Indiana did fire the assistant coach who made all of the calls. Are you actually trying to make the point that the cheating under Haskins is the same level as too many phone calls? Your name should be....Delusional...not the Barn...congrats!

Dave said...

Minnesota has a Top 10 to 20 recruiting class. According to whom? I see Orlando is already pulling the wool over Minnesota eyes. lol

PJS said...

Well Dave, that would be according to pretty much any national ranking.

I know that some ignorant blame Tubby first UK fans would rather post undeducated bullshit than actually look it up, but it's true. Sorry to burst your bubble.

Also, note that Ralph Sampson III choose Tubby and Minnesota over UK and others. But I suppose you happened to forget that.

Anonymous said...

Hey, it's great that Tubby landed some 4 star recruits for your school. But 90 percent of his recruits will be 3 star recruits. Thats probably good enough to land Tubby a job for life in Minnesota, but for the, arguably, best NCAA Basketball program in history, that is not good enough. The reason that Tubby landed a player that Billy Gilispie offered is that Billy Gillispie offer's every player in the top 100.

PJS said...

anon, I'm not so much into psychic predictions like "90 percent of his recruits will be..."

Time will tell. I buy into SOME of the criticism he took at UK on the recruiting front. I also believe he is smart enough to have learned his lesson. Note that Tubby hired Vince Taylor, formerly a recruiting guru at Louisville, to be his top assistant. Perhaps Tubby has learned that he needs top notch recuiters around. It's just a theory and one reason why the "3 star" prognostication might not be realized.