Sampson, Huggins, Kennedy handling early challenges
The spin is in full force at Indiana, Kansas State and Ole Miss.
Everything is looking pretty good right now to Kelvin Sampson, Bob Huggins and Andy Kennedy. The first two hope to make the NCAA Tournament with their new teams next season, while Kennedy hopes it's a case of sooner rather than later.
The most important early situation among the three is at Indiana, where Sampson is hoping to retain current Hoosiers Robert Vaden and D.J. White. Now that former Indiana coach Mike Davis has landed at UAB, a decision is due as to whether these two will follow Davis or stay at Indiana.
Sampson is confident that White will remain at Indiana, especially since White played in only five games this past season because of a twice-broken foot. Sitting out another season (as a transfer) seems like a bit much just to follow his coach. But the only reason White, an Alabama native, went to Indiana was for Davis, so this one bears more watching over the course of the next two months.
Vaden was the one player who chose not to attend Sampson's news conference two weeks ago. Sampson said Vaden could be leaning toward following Davis, but it's not certain what decision Vaden will make.
If White stays, Sampson has a nucleus back that could take him to the NCAAs. He said he likes point guard Earl Calloway and that if he can combine Calloway, White and A.J. Ratliff, it gives him a good core to move forward. Sampson is also hoping that Ben Allen, an Australian reserve center, decides to stay to give him depth along the frontline, but picking up two more forwards is critical in the spring signing period.
Sampson said his overall goal is to establish a new attitude within the program -- one of accountability and discipline. As for the staff, Sampson said he doesn't need to go find another Indiana guy when he's bringing Ray McCallum along with him from his Oklahoma staff and hired Jeff Meyer, who was once at Butler and last season was with Quin Snyder at Missouri.
For Huggins, the new Wildcats coach wants to get something clear: He has relationships but doesn't have anyone lined up yet to come to Manhattan, Kan.
"I'm still going through the process like everyone else," Huggins said.
That would be a warning shot to anyone who is implying that Huggins has a truckload of recruits -- headed namely by O.J. Mayo and Bill Walker of North College Hill (Cincinnati) -- in the class of 2007 who might be heading to K-State.
Huggins has spent five days in the Little Apple since taking the job. He has been out recruiting, with two scholarships open for this spring and six in 2007.
He did hire two assistants, notably Frank Martin, whom he hired at Cincinnati before he got sacked. Martin has strong ties in the Miami area. (Martin also had the line of the day to a Nike rep, telling him he just didn't want purple sweats because he didn't want to look like Barney on the road. He would rather have something in black.)
As for what's left, Huggins' main priority is getting the returnees to play hard. It sounds simple but, "it's a learned skill and it takes a while for guys to get it."
Kennedy, Huggins' former assistant and interim head coach replacement at Cincinnati, is in transition going back and forth from Oxford, Miss. His kids are still in school, so the formal move to Mississippi won't be until June. More than anything, though, Kennedy's trying to reconnect with his Mississippi roots. Kennedy was the 1986 Mr. Basketball in the state but hasn't lived there since.
"This job is unique and you have to get the lay of the land," Kennedy said.
His biggest decision has had to do with staffing, with the top priority being keeping Michael White, whom he termed a rising star. White played at Ole Miss and is the son of Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White. Kennedy also tabbed Owen Miller, a native of Gulfport, and a former Mississippi State assistant. Miller's last job was at Colorado State.
Six days after Tracy Dildy, the former Ole Miss assistant, said he would stay on, Dildy decided to resign. Dildy, who has strong ties to the Midwest from days as assistant at DePaul, shouldn't be a disruptive departure. It probably makes more sense for Dildy to leave considering he was vying for the job that Kennedy landed.
Kennedy also is focusing on scheduling with four or five games to fill. He understands that he has to get some guarantee games while he rebuilds the program.
"More than anything, I've got to get my arms around these guys," said Kennedy. "I did the individual workouts so they could feel comfortable with me. I'm excited about this. I'm 90 miles from where I grew up. I never dreamed I'd be coaching in the SEC. I thought I'd have to go to a mid-major job first."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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