Basketball open practice recap . . . .

By Chris Korman
331-4353 | ckorman@heraldt.com

The two kids next to the guy asking the question couldn’t help but chuckle.

“Why do you hold hands?” was the question.

Sure enough, there stood Indiana’s men’s basketball team holding hands and facing the by-then sparse crowd that had watched them practice at Assembly Hall Thursday.

Indiana head coach Kelvin Sampson thought about answering on his own but gave the microphone instead to power forward D.J. White.

White, the sometimes shy center of attention for the Hoosiers, said one word clearly: “Unity.”

Sampson took over again and told the crowd that holding hands is something all his teams have done. The Hoosiers, who host North Dakota Sunday in their first exhibition game of the season, make like 13-year-olds in a movie theater whenever Sampson addresses them.

“It’s a tradition,” he said. “Just like the red and white striped pants are a tradition.”

Sampson opened Thursday’s practice to students – about 1,000 people in total stopped in to watch during the two-hour practice – in part because he wants the students to embrace his new traditions.

And his different style of play.

Indiana’s offense was in constant motion, a blur of screens and cuts and sprinting runs that spared no one. Even White, who usually just has to stand down low and fight for position, sometimes runs out to create more motion.Sampson is still trying to figure out how best to use his players, though.

The two junior college transfers he recruited, Mike White and Lance Stemler, saw the most time with first-teamers White, wings A.J. Ratliff and Rod Wilmont and point guard Earl Calloway.

Ben Allen also rotated in at times.Wilmont and Ratliff were scrutinized most closely by Sampson on Thursday. Wilmont failed to get in position a number of times and didn’t hustle up to Sampson’s liking and was yanked off the first team. Ratliff twice had to run suicides after bad decisions.

The team as a whole struggled executing, though. While running the offense in a skeleton drill with no defenders it wasn’t exactly precise. Add the defenders, and often the players were just lost.

“As you guys can tell, we’re taking baby steps,” Sampson told the crowd afterward. “The most important thing to teach is work ethic. The offense and defense will evolve if you can learn that.”

Sampson’s practice was a constant flurry of work, beginning with stretching and ball handling work. Then the players ran the floor, worked on shooting, rebounding and transition defense in that order.

Two seven-minute scrimmage periods followed. Several times Sampson stopped the clock to go over specific plays or remind players where to be. He got a chuckle out of the crowd when he scolded D.J. White to “knock the (crap) out of Errek Suhr” while setting a screen on a baseline inbounds play.

The second team, led by freshman point guard Armon Bassett, dominated the play in the first session but ended up losing when Calloway hit a shot with just eight seconds left. In the second scrimmage session, Stemler hit six free throws and Ratliff sank two three-pointers to led the first team to an easy win.

But Sampson still wants his players to work harder. On another inbounds play, he stopped play and told D.J. White, “You can’t just play the way you want to play. You’ve got to play the right way.”

“Our kids gotta learn to work harder,” Sampson told the crowd.

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