Kelvin Sampson

Former Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson will lead Houston against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament Friday night. WDRB Photo/Rick Bozich

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (WDRB) -- The Kelvin Sampson Victory Tour will continue in the NCAA Tournament Friday night.

Sampson and Houston play John Calipari and Kentucky in the NCAA Midwest Tournament regional semifinals at the Sprint Center.

One more victory and Saint Kelvin will play North Carolina or Auburn for a trip to his second Final Four.

Mute the stories about the NCAA messes Sampson left at Oklahoma and Indiana, where players on his final team were reportedly carrying 19 Fs during his final semester on the job.

Turn up the volume on the talk that Sampson deserves serious consideration for national coach of the year.

"People in North Carolina didn't understand when I committed to Houston," said Nate Hinton, a four-star freshman guard from Gastonia, N.C. who picked Houston over 40 other high major offers last year.

"Now they understand. There's just something about coach Sampson. The first time he called, we talked for an hour."

Houston has not been relevant on the national basketball scene since Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler left town. The Cougars wobbled through more than three decades without an NCAA Tournament victory.

Expect to hear talk that after Houston's remarkable season concludes, Sampson will be on the first private jet out of town for the opening at Arkansas. The guy making the hire at Arkansas is the same one who hired Sampson at Houston -- athletic director Hunter Yurachek.

Expect testimonials from legends like San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich that any program that hires Sampson would be blessed to have him as its leader.

At 33-3, Houston in the winningest team in the tournament. The Cougars are a 3-point underdog against John Calipari's team. If Sampson pulls the upset, the story of Kelvin doing his NCAA time and then barreling toward the Final Four will become the story of the tournament.

Sampson did his time. Now his players say he is having the time of his life.

But let's not overlook the fine print:

Saint Kelvin hasn't always been Saint Kelvin.

Saint Kelvin and his staff left a colossal mess at Indiana University that took Tom Crean at least five years to fix -- and it wasn't simply too many text messages.

With Indiana sitting out the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season this March, some argue the stain created by Sampson and his collection of rogues has never been completely cleansed.

Yes, Sampson served his time in the NCAA penalty box -- a 5-year show cause that left Indiana on probation when Crean took over after the 2008 season.

Yes, his NCAA violations were primarily the result of too many texts messages.


They are offenses that are no longer in violation of NCAA rules and essentially the recruiting version of jay-walking considering some of the other non-sense going on between coaches, middle men and sneaker companies in today's world.

"What if they didn't have the wiretaps now?" Sampson said after he was asked about the scandal that has surrounded the game for the last 1-1/2 years.

"Would we know? I'm assuming that stuff has been going on -- you hear about it. The game will survive obviously in time, but it certainly puts a tarnish on it."

The primary turmoil Sampson created at Indiana was not text message turmoil. It was academic turmoil. It was guys who did not want to be coached or go to class turmoil.

It was total roster turmoil.

There were about six scholarship players on the roster when Crean took over from Dan Dakich, the interim coach, who was in charge for the final eight games after IU dismissed Sampson in February 2008.

Within a month, the Hoosiers were down to a pair of walk-ons -- Kyle Taber and Brett Finkelmeier.

"We worked out a few guys one time and they never came back," said one person with the Indiana program at the time.

"They could tell they were going to be different standards at practice and they were going to be held accountable in different ways."

This is one way they were going to held accountable: They were instructed to go to class.

"I believe when we took over the guys on the roster were carrying 19 Fs (in the spring semester)," the source said.

In 2008, Indiana ranked 268 among 337 in the academic progress report ( APR). Crean self-imposed a loss of one scholarship because of the situation and Crean and his staff avoided after the team demonstrated academic improvement.

The source said there were multiple university housing bills, for close to $25,000, that went unpaid. The new staff informed the players that drug testing rules would be followed and enforced.

"We realized very quickly there was a lot of work to do," the source said.

Sampson moved on. Indiana moved backwards.

Popovich, a Hall of Famer, sent him his first lifeline, bringing Sampson to San Antonio and regularly driving him to work. He worked for the Bucks. He worked for the Rockets. Sampson credits former Kentucky coach Tubby Smith and current Tennessee coach Rick Barnes for remaining determined friends.

Nobody said Sampson was a bad or even average coach. He won at Washington State. He won at Oklahoma. He won at Indiana.

He handled the shame.

Now he is winning at Houston. Now he's Saint Kelvin -- even if his record is considerably more complicated.

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