Kelvin Sampson should be back in the game

With the hiring of San Antonio Spurs assistant Brett Brown as the Philadelphia 76ers new head coach, it looks as though former Butte resident Kelvin Sampson was shut out of a top NBA following the recently completed season’s round of firings.

The Philly job was the last one open. Sampson is a top assistant for the Houston Rockets in a coaching career that began more than 30 years ago. Sampson’s first experience as a head coach came at the helm of Montana Tech during the early and mid-1980s. He has headed programs at Washington State, Oklahoma and Indiana since.

Sampson contended for NCAA championships at Oklahoma and Indiana. He reached the Final Four. However, the bounce to the pros was hardly a springboard move. Sampson was charged and punished for too much telephone contact — conversational or text — with potential high school recruits, contacting the prospects more times than the governing body allowed.

He received a warning at Oklahoma, punishment at Indiana. Sampson’s success at Oklahoma as a coach landed him the spot at Indiana. He was fired by the Hoosiers for the NCAA infractions, and he took legal action against them. An out-of-court settlement was reached, Sampson went to the NBA and Indiana claimed clean hands.

Shortly after, the names of some other higher-echelon coaches of college basketball were being brought up, suspected of committing infractions similar to those of which Sampson was accused. Collected and tried, the list, which included a national championship coach, could have really set the NCAA on its ear.

Justly then, it is being whispered, probably, that these men were committing their sins the same time Sampson was being followed and spied on by NCAA operators. Maybe then, the Indiana staff caught texting too much, was doing so just to try to stay even with the duly dialing digits of the competition in high-stakes American college basketball.

If adjudicated in the same way as Sampson’s case, then jobs at some Big 12, Big East, Big 10 schools could have been on the line, as they also would have some at a couple of mid-majors that had made NCAA Tournament noise.

The court actions could have gone on for years. The sport could have been reeling, losing its immense popularity and commercial drawing power.
A few of those guys, those other almost-suspected coaches, have since resigned or retired. So, the potential mess did start to melt away some in stature.

Never, though, underestimate the problem-solving skills of the NCAA. The governing body completed the fancy sidestep recently by lifting the phone ban. The easement went into effect June 15. College coaches can now call or text high school athletes as many times as they wish during the recruiting process. It can all begin during sophomore year. The NCA admitted it does not really know how to police it as the rules seem outdated and the technology abilities and demands overwhelming.

Guys like Sampson can’t be punished anymore and those thought to hold special NCAA protections get to keep it — legitimately, as they say. The sshhh-sshhhh is being fully practiced.

Hopefully now, basketball, as a community, will look at Sampson’s resume of winning and not be influenced by what was put out there as his cheating. Butte remembers him mostly as a good and fun guy. We are not privy to Sampson’s thoughts, but he told us a couple of years ago that the college game no longer interests him. This recent rule change may or may not change his mind.

Breaking or stretching the rules is not being endorsed here, but more fairness is being requested. If everybody else is being exonerated in the phoning/texting issue, then Sampson, who actually has served some punishment by not being able to pursue college coaching positions, should be allowed back into the campaign.

His consideration, in both the college and NBA realms, should be sincere, too. 3 comments

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  • Sean E
    July 3, 2013, 11:15 am

    The Boston Celtics job is still open. Sampson probably won’t be considered since the Celtics think they need a big name like Brian Shaw or George Karl to replace Doc Rivers.

  • Yo Chi Boy
    July 3, 2013, 1:30 pm

    Word on the street back in the Big 10 area was Sampson got off lightly. He was supposedly doing some really shady stuff – including how he recruited Eric Gordon. Is it all true? No idea. But I talked to some people with cred and they swore up and down he was a cheater on so many levels. But yeah, treating him like that, while letting a sleaze like Calipari walk around with a job – a man who put two programs in Final Fours that do not exist now and a third sure to come – is indeed unfair. My only question about people who have to cheat is simply this: Would you be as good if you didn’t? In Kentucky’s case Cal didn’t have the normal bevy of talent he usually brings in and his team was horrible. A completely overrated coach who has zero acumen. I wonder if people like Sampson (or most SEC football coaches for that matter, remember Saban was lousy everywhere else) really should get the respect they get showered with until they can prove they do it right. Nice column, Bruce…as always.

  • Tedd Stanisich
    July 3, 2013, 3:55 pm

    Bruce- nice column – keep writing for you guys are putting out good stuff.


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