Allegations of violations upset former Hoosiers
Former Indiana forward Ted Kitchel, a two-time All-Big Ten pick and a starter on the 1980-81 team that beat North Carolina for the national championship, never wanted the Hoosiers to hire Kelvin Sampson as their basketball coach.
Kitchel, who played for legendary Hoosiers coach Bob Knight, preferred his alma mater choose someone more familiar with the school's program and traditions. Kitchel wanted a coach who wouldn't cut corners when it came to NCAA rules and graduating players, someone who would do things the way they always have been done at Indiana.
There is a lot more to building a program than just winning basketball games. There are a lot of guys who are only interested in winning 20 games every season, and Kelvin Sampson is one of them.
-- Ted Kitchel
"When you look at Sampson's record at Oklahoma, he never graduated anybody, and he recruited a bunch of junior college players," Kitchel said Wednesday. "I think when you look at guys who do it that way -- and there is obviously a group of coaches who do it that way -- there are going to be potential problems. There is a lot more to building a program than just winning basketball games. There are a lot of guys who are only interested in winning 20 games every season, and Kelvin Sampson is one of them."
So it came as little surprise to Kitchel that Sampson and his coaching staff have been accused by the NCAA of committing five major rules violations, which were publicly announced Wednesday.
The NCAA alleges Sampson and his coaches violated telephone recruiting restrictions imposed because of Sampson's previous infractions at Oklahoma, then lied to Indiana officials and NCAA investigators, according to an NCAA report.
"It happened right there in the NCAA's backyard," Kitchel said. "He did it once and kind of rubbed it in their noses and did it again."
A handful of former Indiana players reached Wednesday said they are disappointed their alma mater is being scrutinized by the NCAA for possible major rules violations. Indiana hasn't had major NCAA rules violations since 1960.
For all of Knight's warts, he never was accused of violating NCAA rules during his 29-year tenure at Indiana, during which he guided the Hoosiers to three national championships and 11 Big Ten titles.
"It's not good to be on the news and to see your school coming across the ticker like that and to see the words sanctions and penalties," said Brian Evans, an Indiana forward from 1993 to 1996 and the 1996 Big Ten regular-season MVP.
Evans, who still lives near the Indiana campus in Bloomington, is one of the former IU players who welcomed Sampson to campus after the former Oklahoma coach was hired to replace fired Mike Davis in March 2006.
Evans said he was encouraged by the team Sampson produced on the court. The No. 12 Hoosiers are 20-4, 9-2 in the Big Ten standings, after losing 68-66 to No. 14 Wisconsin on Wednesday night at Assembly Hall.
"I think he's been good for our program in terms of the product we see on the court," Evans said. "We're very competitive, and we're winning a lot of games. You're just seeing a ton of effort, and guys are really competing out there, which I think are some things we were missing."
Evans said he will withhold judgement on Sampson until he learns more about the NCAA infractions case. Indiana officials have until May 8 to file a written response to the NCAA charges. Indiana officials aren't expected to appear before the NCAA Committee on Infractions until a scheduled meeting in June, at the earliest.
Evans suspects Indiana fans will reach their conclusions about Sampson before then.
"There are probably other schools and fan bases where people don't care about the way you're getting it done as long as you win games and win conference championships and win national championships," Evans said. "But I know that here, with the standards coach Knight put in place, I think the fan base feels a little bit different about it. We want to do things the right way, and therefore, there are concerns about what's going on."
One of Indiana's most famous players was quicker to dismiss Sampson as a cheater and believes he should be removed as coach immediately. Kent Benson, a three-time All-American and a star player on the 1975-76 Indiana team that finished unbeaten and won the national championship, said the school made a mistake in hiring Sampson from the start.
"He shouldn't have been hired in the first place, and he shouldn't be allowed to continue as coach," Benson told the Indianapolis Star on Wednesday. "The integrity of the Indiana University basketball program has been compromised, and that's a terrible shame."
Tom Abernethy, a starting forward on that 1975-76 Indiana team -- the last Division I college basketball squad to go unbeaten -- also said he was most concerned about the school's reputation.
"I have enjoyed coach Sampson personally, and I'm hopeful the findings are not indeed true," said Abernethy, who operates the Indiana Basketball Academy in Indianapolis. "But whether it's Kelvin Sampson or the golf coach or the football coach, I would hope Indiana won't be perceived in that we want to win by cutting corners. I'd like to win, but I want to do it fair and square. I just think people in Indiana want to be known as people who want to do things properly."
Like Benson, Kitchel isn't convinced Sampson should remain the Hoosiers' coach, even if he has been only accused of breaking NCAA rules. But Kitchel said that decision belongs to athletic director Rick Greenspan, who made the controversial decision to hire Sampson when Davis was fired.
"I'd have to let Rick Greenspan figure it out," Kitchel said. "He seems to know more about Indiana basketball and the tradition of Indiana basketball than anybody. He's the one who went out and made the hire. He'd have to make that decision, if he's still going to be in the position to make the decision. If I were Indiana, I'd have to look into who made that hire."
Oddly enough, Knight, who was fired as Indiana's coach in September 2000 after violating the zero-tolerance policy the school put in place to temper his volatile behavior, might be looking for work. Knight, who won an NCAA-record 902 Division I games, abruptly resigned as Texas Tech's coach Feb. 4. But Knight has indicated he might want to coach elsewhere.
Would Knight be willing to return to Indiana?
"I can't imagine he would come back after what they put he and his family through," Kitchel said. "I know he still has a lot of friends in Bloomington. It's like coach Knight says, 'You never say never.' But I'd be really surprised if that happened."
Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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