By Bruce Campbell, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Congrats to former Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson for his return to the college game after being hired by the University of Houston Thursday.
Stories about the hiring talked about Sampson’s “checkered past.’’ He had been on a five-year “show cause’’ penalty by the NCAA for making impermissable phone calls to recruits at both OU and Indiana. Sampson was dismissed from Indiana toward the end of his second year because of those violations. Remember, those the violations which got Sampson in hot water with the NCAA are now permitted.
He obviously made a big mistake, but contrast that with Kentucky’s John Calipiari, whose Final Four appearances with UMass and Memphis are off the record books because both played ineligible players.
Sampson has acknowledged mistakes and vows not to repeat them. Those violations cost him a six-figure bonus in his first year at Indiana.
But remember, the guy can coach. He took the Sooners to the Final Four in 2002 with a team that had no players go on to the NBA. Contrast that with the 1987-88 team Sooner team which lost to Kansas in the NCAA finals that had three (Stacey King, Mookie Blaylock and Harvey Grant) future No. 1 draft picks. Sampson was able to suceed a legend in following Billy Tubbs at OU. He made 11 NCAA tournaments at OU. Eduardo Najera, the player who might have best typified the toughness of a Sampson-coached player, was the only player from the Sampson era to have a significant NBA career.
If that wasn’t impressive enough, he had taken Washington State to the NCAA before that. He won at NAIA Montana Tech, where he joked all of the players at the highly-rated academic instiution were smarter than he was.
Sampson is a blue-collar coach. Some players couldn’t take his methods and left like Ryan Humphreys, who left after two seasons to go to Notre Dame and became a top NBA draft pick.
He now goes to a program that has a rich history, but has fallen on hard times recently. Houston has reached the NCAA tournament only once since 1992.
If Sampson can win at a Washington State, he certainly can win at Houston,which has joined the American Athletic Conference.
Sampson was just a guy you could like. He once spoke at the Drummond All-Sports banquet, saying he prefers events like that over bigger schools. Then-Bulldogs coach Marcus Newby was a former manager for Sampson at OU.
He always was acessible when he came to Enid for OU functions.
One could really like him when you saw his relationships with his parents, especially his dad, Mr. Ned, his high school coach and biggest fan. The elder Sampson took ill when OU won the NCAA Western Regional in 2002 and had to miss the finals. When the Sooners won, they gave the nets to Ned Sampson in his hospital room.My late mother really admired him for that.Bobby Knight always spoke badly of Sampson. If Knight hates you, you can’t be all bad. Sampson never threw a chair and never choked a player and never threw a vase at a secretary.
I’ll take him over Knight any day.
Campbell is a News & Eagle sports writer