How does one redeem themselves when their body of work has a shadow hanging over it? In sports, the answer is winning.
Houston Cougars (27-7) head coach Kelvin Sampson has a great resume. The 62 year old has appeared in 14 NCAA tournaments, has received various Coach of the Year awards, and even appeared in 2002 Final Four when he was the coach of Oklahoma.
However, Sampson’s resume isn’t without a couple huge black eyes that still hurt him in the court of public opinion. When Sampson coached at Indiana and Oklahoma he made hundreds of impermissible phone calls to recruits. That led to a show-cause penalty which forced Sampson out of the NCAA for awhile.
Luckily for Sampson, he found his footing in the NBA, landing jobs as an assistant coach for the Milwaukee Bucks and Houston Rockets.
What’s unfortunate about the “death sentence” handed to Sampson a decade ago is the fact the rules which led to his demise have changed. The phone calls Sampson made are now legal.
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas recently gave a big time defense of Sampson, saying “Right now, college basketball is going through this FBI probe and we’ve had people arrested and the term corruption is being used. Kelvin Sampson was being criticized for phone calls. That’s how ridiculous the NCAA system has been all these years. He was out of the college game for a while because of phone calls. Tell me we don’t have our priorities out of whack.”
While the NCAA tends to have its priorities out of whack far too often, it appears Sampson’s priorities are in the right place. He has his Houston team playing at a high level, with his pupil Rob Gray putting together the most electrifying performance of the first round, racking up 39 points in all.
Michigan is determined, John Beilein surely has his team focused and ready to roll. But Kelvin Sampson is an old school coach as well, who values coaching a team that plays good defense and can get hot on offense.
The farther Houston gets in the tournament, the closer Sampson can come to redemption. For people to forget about his past and remember him as the head coach of Houston, he’s going to need a deep run in March. That train of thought can either hamper your preparation for the next opponent or fuel a fire that leads to a focus that cannot be distracted from the ultimate goal.
Houston is a good team. The Cougars beat Wichita State twice this season, and beat Cincinnati once while also losing to them in their conference championship by a point. This will be no walk in the park for Michigan.
March Madness is all about various stories, and despite there being winners and losers, allegiances that make you root for one team over the other, it shouldn’t take away from a neat story-line when it’s there to be had. And the story of Kelvin Sampson is an interesting one.
Sampson has been vilified in his past, and while he did break rules at the time, I’ll take him over the Rick Pitino’s of the world. Every. Single. Time.
Add this story-line into the mix for your viewing pleasure.
Michigan will aim to put Sampson’s redemption on hold, and for any fan of college basketball in March, that should be good enough reason to tune in and see how it all shakes out.