Kelvin Sampson Speaks the Boys and Girls Clubs of Indianapolis
Sept. 22, 2006
Kelvin Sampson has twice been named National Coach of the Year, is one of six active coaches nationally to post nine straight 20-plus win seasons and has led teams to 12 NCAA Tournament appearances. Despite these accolades, Sampson told a capacity crowd at The Steak and Steak Dinner for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Indianapolis on Sept. 21 that the rewards of coaching go well beyond the final score.
"I like to coach because it gives you the opportunity to influence kids' lives, watch them grow and help them along the way," Sampson said. "To me, that is what the Boys and Girls Clubs are about. None of us are as good as all of us. God's great gift to us is who we are. Our great gift to God is who we become. I don't have heroes, but I do have people who inspire me."
During Sampson's 40-minute speech at the Union Federal Football Center, he shared the story of Eduardo Najera. A native of Chihuahua, Mexico, Najera participated in an exchange program with the hopes of earning a college basketball scholarship. Najera transferred to Cornerstone Christian Academy in San Antonio, Texas.
While major college programs quickly took notice of Najera's on-court skills, the 6-6 forward was struggling to learn the English language. Sampson recalled his first recruiting trip to see Najera, who was accompanied by his Cornerstone Academy coach and an interpreter.
"Eduardo could understand what I was saying, but he could not speak English well enough to respond," Sampson recalled. "But sometimes, you can look in a kid's eyes, and they look back with an expression that says, `Coach, right back at ya.' Those are the kids that you want to sign."
Najera worked hard to learn English in order to pass his college entrance exam and become eligible to play. These countless hours paid dividends, as Najera closed his Sooner career ranked among the school's top 10 in nine statistical categories and earned third team All-American honors. More impressively, he won the 2000 Chip Hilton Award, presented annually by the Basketball Hall of Fame to a college senior demonstrating character on and off the court.
Following his college career, Najera was the 32nd overall pick of the 2000 NBA Draft, selected by the Dallas Mavericks. After three productive seasons in Dallas, Najera signed a four-year contract worth $26 million.
"I still remember Eduardo calling me to tell me that he was sitting in (Mavericks owner and IU graduate) Mark Cuban's office ready to sign his contract," Sampson said. "I started thinking about my first meeting with Eduardo, his coach and the interpreter. I thought about his parents - his mother took in laundry and cleaned people's houses in Chihuahua to make money, and his dad was a maintenance worker for the city. The only time that they saw Eduardo play in college was on Senior Night. They could not afford to travel to his games."
Najera's story helps define Sampson's career objective.
"Coaches are not magicians. There are no wands to become great overnight. It comes from people over time," Sampson said. "When I first met Eduardo, he could understand English, but he did not have the confidence to look in the eye and ask how you are doing because he did not know how to speak English well enough. No matter how many championships you win, stories like that give coaches their greatest value. To influence young people's lives, that is what the Boys and Girls Club is about, and that is why I like to coach."
Following the speech, Sampson took questions from Boys and Girls Club members.
How stressful is your job?
Who persuaded you to get into coaching?
Who is the person that you most admire?
Who is the best player you have ever coached?
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