Kelvin Sampson press conference recap

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Indiana mens’ basketball coach Kelvin Sampson met with the media today on the eve of Hoosier Hysteria, which of course is a celebration held on the eve of the beginning of actual practice.

No surprise how Sampson will begin his team’s practice on Saturday: by drilling defense.

“If you don’t put the hammer down now,” he said, “and get them to have some pride and buy in in October, I don’t know that you can do that in January and February.”

What the beginning of actual practices allows Sampson to do is drill his team consistently, day after day. And that means that he’ll spend much of his time working on getting them to understand the level of effort he expects. He does that directly, with no fanfare: most of the drills are timed and the team must achieve a certain goal while completing them.

“Everything we do in our practices is built around times and goals,” he said. “And the thought there is that you don’t have to just go through the motions but you have to feel what it’s like to reach goals.”

Because Sampson has returning players on this year’s team, it’s been easier for him to teach.

“Now we can line up the returning guys and get them to show what we mean,” he said.

And that was how Sampson spent much of the practice time alloted him prior to the Bahamas trip and then during the two hours per week he’s had with his players since mid-September. Those sessions were more sporadic and shorter and better used for that sort of teaching.

“Sometimes it felt like we were mostly standing around talking,” he said.

So now Sampson, who has three weeks until his team’s first exhibition game against North Alabama, will build six new players and four key returners into the sort of team he favors. That involves defense and rebounding and diving on the floor and having just the right amount of edge or swagger.

Then, he’ll figure out what type of team — on offense — they need to be.

Sampson has already named D.J. White a starter — of course — and said Thursday that he doesn’t expect Eric Gordon to play like a freshman at all this eyar. Figure those two are the centerpieces of the offense.

But after that, there’s work that must be done. Armon Bassett will become the primary point guard. Last season, Sampson said, Bassett “wasn’t a good point guard or a two-guard. He was just a good guard.” And so that element of his game — mainly the scoring instinct — must be worked into however Bassett is expected to play. Clearly, Sampson will expect quicker movement up the floor this year and more points in transition. He has challenged Bassett to take outlet passes off defensive rebounds and continue pushing the ball up the floor via pass instead of the dribble. He even invoked the name of Mike Conley Jr., the dazzling point guard who went from Indianapolis to Ohio State to the NBA, when talking about what he’d like to see from his offense.

But Sampson’s got only four guards to start the year due to A.J. Ratliff’s academic ineligibility. That, he admitted, will be a challenge.

The forward spot opposite D.J. White is up for grabs, Sampson said. He’s been pleased with Lance Stemler’s effort and leadership, but also likes what he has seen from DeAndre Thomas, who has lost exactly 50 pounds since I first interviewed him shortly after he arrived on campus. He’s down to 302.

Eli Holman’s eligibility issues have yet to be resolved, Sampson said. But he said that Holman has handled the wait with patience and is a nice kid to be around.

More updates coming . . .

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