Sampson walks fine line with Illinois recruit Gordon

Sampson walks fine line with Illinois recruit Gordon

By Stan Sutton, H-T sports editor

July 14, 2006

Strong opinions aren’t unusual on internet chat rooms, but among 10 contributors to one of them this week Indiana basketball coach Kelvin Sampson was called “slime,” a “slime ball” and “scum.”

Granted, the chat room was prompted by a news story in the Chicago Tribune and the respondents probably were Illinois fans. Still, the new Indiana coach may be walking a fine line on an issue of ethics.

The hub of the controversy is 6-foot-3 guard Eric Gordon, who will be a senior next season at North Central. Regarded as the state’s best player, Gordon has made an oral commitment to play collegiately at Illinois beginning with the 2007-08 season.

According to multiple reports, Sampson has remained involved in the recruitment of Gordon, obviously hoping the talented guard will change his mind about his college choice.

A verbal commitment may be the least binding rule in athletics, but it sometimes is cast as a gentleman’s agreement. Verbal commitments help colleges determine what personnel needs coaches must fulfill. At the least, most coaches relax their pursuit of an athlete after he verbalizes.

It works to the athlete’s benefit because it relaxes the pressure of the recruiting process.

Sampson is no more the central figure in this issue than is Eric Gordon Sr., the player’s father. The elder Gordon played collegiately at Liberty for Sampson’s current assistant, Jeff Meyer.

Sampson is not a voice in the wilderness, but he probably is the only coach with a chance of luring the younger Gordon away from his commitment. Gordon reportedly choose Illinois, at least in part, because he wasn’t comfortable with former IU coach Mike Davis’ situation.

Gordon Sr. told The Tribune that six big-time college coaches called within a 24-hour period to determine the strength of Eric’s commitment to Illinois.

Illinois coach Bruce Weber obviously feels the pressure of possibly losing his top recruit.

“I think it’s unethical to keep going after a kid once he has committed,” Weber told The Tribune. “When a kid calls to say he’s not going to your place, you might give him one last shot: ‘Are you sure?’ And if they say, yes, then it’s over.”

The reversal of verbal commitments is far from new. Former Purdue star Rick Mount first committed to Miami (Fla.). Robert Vaden played at IU the past two years after breaking a verbal commitment to Purdue.

Gordon Jr. recently said he plans to stand behind his commitment, even as his father emphasizes that oral commitments aren’t binding.

Gordon as a Hoosier could reverse a trend in which IU has watched numerous top players go out of state. Landing home-grown talent is Sampson’s most important challenge.

Due to recent restriction imposed for NCAA violations while at Oklahoma, Sampson is confined to recruiting from his office, accepting calls from recruits but barred from contacting them.

Because he already is under sanctions, it would behoove Sampson to make sure he doesn’t obliterate the so-called gentleman’s agreement. However, if Gordon is making overtures toward IU Sampson would be foolish to rule himself out.