Hoosiers are starting to look like a Sampson-built team

Hoosiers are starting to look like a Sampson-built team

by Doug Wilson, H-T sports editor

January 11, 2007

Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson reacts to an official’s call during the second half of Wednesday night’s 85-58 win over Purdue. Chris Howell | Herald-Times
From the Jan. 11, 2007 Bloomington Herald-Times

At least Matt Painter isn’t too burned up most people in Indiana couldn’t get last night’s game on TV because it was on ESPNU.

“It’s great,” the Purdue coach said. “Nobody could watch it. It’s a hell of a ploy.”

In what many had billed as the start of a renewed rivalry between two rising teams from West Lafayette and Bloomington, Painter’s Boilermakers got torched from start to finish.

For the second straight game, Indiana pounded a Big Ten foe by its largest margin against that school since the early 90s.

Still, Hoosier coach Kelvin Sampson isn’t raving about his team. He said Wednesday night that his Hoosiers are not a great team or perhaps even very good, but they are at least becoming solid now.

Compared to recent Indiana teams, these Hoosiers are more than solid. The obvious hurdle ahead is that they haven’t won on the road yet.

These past four days – with a 22-point blowout over Michigan State and a 27-point rout of Purdue – look like a turning point for Indiana’s basketball program.

What we’re seeing is the best coaching Indiana has had since Bob Knight’s IU program started to slip in the years just following those when the Hoosiers last beat these two opponents by more: Purdue by 41 in 1992 and Michigan State by 31 in 1993.

Sampson didn’t build his 72 percent winning percentage at Oklahoma with blue-chip talent. He took mostly lesser-known high school talents and JUCO players and molded them into teams that won 25 games a season his last seven years in Norman.

You can see that team-building happening now at Indiana.

Sampson has one legit big-time recruit in his starting five in D.J. White. He has two JUCO transfers in Lance Stemler and Earl Calloway. He has a former prep school player in freshman Armon Bassett. And he has Rod Wilmont, who wasn’t highly recruited by big-time programs out of high school.

This patchwork group is competing harder and playing better defense than we’ve seen at Indiana in more than a decade.

And the Hoosiers have improved dramatically on offense since those 20-plus turnover games at the start of the season. They’ll still struggle to score on the road at times this Big Ten season, but at home against Purdue, they passed the ball well and shot 68 percent in the second half.

What a return from a wrist injury for A.J. Ratliff, the night’s offensive star. Ratliff really hasn’t shot well since his freshman year, but he didn’t miss a shot Wednesday in scoring 16 points.

Besides the starters, Indiana is getting good contributions from freshmen Joey Shaw and Xavier Keeling. Both of them have learned their roles and look like they’ll become good players at Indiana in the years ahead.

Painter has some good young players at Purdue, too. Freshmen Gordon Watt and Chris Kramer should give the Hoosiers some difficult moments in the upcoming seasons and perhaps as soon as a Feb. 14 rematch in West Lafayette.

The Hoosiers should remember that after Indiana defeated Purdue 106-65 at Assembly Hall in January 1992, the Boilermakers came back in March to defeat Indiana, 61-59, at Mackey Arena.

While Wednesday night’s game wasn’t what it could have been with a more competitive contest, I got to re-live one of the best games of the series during my lifetime before the game in talking with one of the heroes from the Knight-Keady heyday of the rivalry.

John Laskowski recounted the moment in March 1974 when he toed the line for a one-and-one with seven seconds left. With the Hoosiers trailing, 79-78, it was all on Laz to win it or lose it.

He buried both free throws. Then teammate Steve Green blocked a Purdue shot and the Hoosiers sealed a share of the Big Ten Championship with Michigan.

“The fans carried me off the court on their shoulders,” Laskowski recalled.

I was 10 years old watching that game at Assembly Hall. That kind of moment was what I grew up thinking the state’s biggest basketball rivalry was all about.

We didn’t see that kind of game Wednesday. But we saw a Hoosier program headed toward being capable of those kinds of championship performances.