Sampson ‘solid’ coach, man

Sampson ‘solid’ coach, man

Oklahoma physican praises new IU coach’s character

by Doug Wilson, H-T sports writer

March 29, 2006

Kelvin Sampson
From the Mar. 29, 2006 Bloomington Herald-Times

Don Halverstadt was sad to hear Kelvin Sampson is leaving Oklahoma, but excited to think of what Sampson will accomplish at Indiana.

Halverstadt is a physician in Oklahoma City who played college basketball and helped recruit Sampson to coach at Oklahoma 12 years ago. Later, for eight years, Halverstadt traveled with Oklahoma’s team and sat on the bench at games to help with players’ medical needs.

He watched as Sampson earned national coach of the year honors in his first season at Oklahoma, when the Sooners went 23-9. And when Sampson won the award again in 2002 after his team won 31 games before being upset by Indiana in the Final Four.

He observed Sampson’s basketball teams, playing at a football school, making the NCAA field every year, except one, 2004, when injuries devastated a squad that hobbled into the NIT. Those successes impressed Halverstadt, but not as much as seeing the personal interest Sampson took in his players and their families.

Sampson’s home in Norman is like a second home to his players, Halverstadt said, and academics are a big part of life there. That approach resulted in about eight of the team’s 12 players having a GPA over 3.0 last semester, Halverstadt said.

“I have never known anybody in my life who is as solid as Kelvin is,” Halverstadt said in a phone interview. “He is a man of great integrity. He’s a man who cares about these kids beyond basketball.

“He’s a very demanding coach. It’s kind of a tough-love situation, but the guys would do anything for him.”

Clay Horning, sports editor at the Norman Transcript, said you can see Sampson’s personality in a drill he likes to use in practice – the bubble drill. It consists of two lids being placed over the baskets, and players running their ordinary sets, with points awarded for rebounds.

The objective is to teach toughness in pursuing every shot as a missed shot.

“That’s his identity,” Horning said. “It’s floor burns and skinned knees, supreme toughness, overachievement.”

Horning said he believes the recruiting violations the NCAA is currently investigating at Oklahoma were a matter of Sampson and other staff not knowing the correct rules on phone calls to recruits, not one of intentionally breaking rules. Most people following the situation don’t expect significant new penalties beyond the school’s self-imposed ones, Horning said.

Halverstadt described Sampson’s strengths as dedication to his job, knowledge of the game, an unusual ability to recruit players and the ability to relate to the families of kids who sometimes come from less than ideal circumstances.

He said Sampson’s teams have played different styles of basketball various years, depending on the strengths of their personnel. Some years, they’ve played uptempo, other years a slowdown game.

“He’s flexible,” Halverstadt said. “They grind it into the post when they have big men who are capable. Other years, they have had a lot of 6-5 guys.”

The defining characteristics of Sampson’s teams are that they compete on every play, Halverstadt said, and players commit themselves to a team concept, not individual play.

“I’ve heard Kelvin say it so many times,” he said. “The name on the front of the uniform is much more important than the name on the back of the uniform.”

Sampson file

• 9 straight 20-win seasons (one of six coaches)

• 25.0-win average over last 5 years

• Has won more Big 12 games than any coach in the conference’s history

• 13 consecutive postseason appearances, including 12 NCAA Tournaments

• 2001, 2002, 2003 Big 12 Tournament titles

• Big 12’s best tournament record (17-7)

• 161-22 (.880) record at Lloyd Noble Center, including 79-6 (.929) mark over last 85 home games

• Big 12 record 37-game home winning streak (2001-03)

• 1995 and 2002 national coach of the year

• Coached All-Americans Eduardo Najera (3rd team in 2000) and Hollis Price (1st team in 2003)