Hoosiers learning one play at a time under Sampson

Here’s the story I wrote on the first week of Indiana’s basketball practice.

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By Chris Korman
331-4353 | ckorman@heraldt.com
October 20, 2006
Kelvin Sampson wouldn’t name the culprit. But during his first full week of practice with the Indiana men’s basketball team, one of his players did the unthinkable and failed to take a charge.

“One of our kids did the matador thing instead of taking a charge,” Sampson said Thursday. “OK, you stop and do a charge drill for four or five minutes. Five practices later, he’s stepping in and taking a charge. OK, we don’t have to do that drill anymore.”

Sampson spent much of his 30-minute meeting with the media discussing his teaching method. The first-year coach is fond of saying basketball isn’t rocket science, and indeed his approach to shaping this team early seems to consist of fairly simple psychology.

Repeat the good repeatedly.

Punish the bad.

Since he closes his practices to the media, Sampson’s version will have to do. ESPN was allowed to tape part of Wednesday’s practice for its college basketball preview, but that won’t air until closer to the beginning of the season.

Players were not available for interviews Thursday because they had their first off day following five straight days of practice that began the Saturday afternoon following Hoosier Hysteria.

Sampson said he enjoys this part of season because he can coach the team to play a certain style.

“You have to choose what you want to be good at early,” he said. “If we start working on 10 different things early then I think we end up being pretty average in everything.”

So far the emphasis has been on the pace of practice and translating it to game situations. Despite surviving the rigorous preseason conditioning sessions, the players are not yet accustomed to his up-tempo style, Sampson said.

“I think the speed and intensity of our practices has kind of thrown them all for a little bit of a loop,” he said. “But they’re adjusting.”

Sampson is deliberately taking the process slowly so he can teach all of the players his way of doing things. It does not appear as though he’s set a timetable for how fast he’d like to see them develop; he’s adjusting based on their performance.

“I’m very much an A-B-C teacher,” I don’t think you go to B until you’re really, really good at A. And you don’t even think about C until you know how to do A and B. That’s kind of how practice is going in a nutshell.”

Sampson wasn’t prepared to offer a substantial evaluations of his players, but did say that A.J. Ratliff has been impressive so far, even though the junior guard is struggling with a hamstring injury.

Senior point guard Earl Calloway must learn to control the pace of play better, Sampson said. He often pushes the ball up the court too quickly and would benefit from more change of pace.

Ben Allen is still playing out of habit and drifting to the three-point line. Sampson doesn’t mind having a big man that can shoot but wants more of a rebounding presence from the 6-foot-11 sophomore.

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