Nov. 8, 2006
Head men's basketball coach Kelvin Sampson
We're happy about today. This is an outstanding class. It has a little bit of everything in it. We've got really good young talent inside, we've got some versatility and we've got a dynamic impact player in Eric (E.J.) Gordon. Those are the three letters we have in. Obviously we don't anticipate any problems, but there's a timing issue on one. The three we have in are Brandon McGee, E.J. Gordon, and Eli Holman.
The thing that I really like about Brandon is that when I watched him play, the thing that jumped out at me, and I have a tendency to compare kids that I've coached, he has a lot of Eduardo Madera in him, and he's playing for the Denver Nuggets right now. Brandon doesn't have a position. He can play just about anywhere you'd like him. We played Eduardo a lot at the three. We posted him up against guys that he had a size advantage on; we played him outside where he could take people off the dribble. Brandon has a high basketball I.Q., and can make threes. When he was at our elite camp in August, the thing that jumped out at me was his feel for the game - the way that he made people better with the pass. He's a good rebounder, a good shooter, and can think the game at a high level.
With Eli Holman, the sky's the limit. By the time he finishes growing, he's probably going to be at least 6-10. Extremely, extremely, extremely long arms. Long armed kids have a tendency to play bigger than they really are. His reach is 7-7. He's eft-handed and has a passion for blocking shots and playing defense. He's a kid that can come in and play a role because he already embraces it. One of the biggest adjustments for high school kids who were stars coming in is how to adjust to being a part of a team and maybe playing a role. Eli already does that, and he plays with a passion. He's got a bounce. I like kids that have fun when they play.
E.J. Gordon is a dynamic player. Offensively, there's so many different ways that he can score in basketball. One of the areas that we've talked about is his middle game. He's really good from behind the free throw line; he can take a ball to the basket. One bounce pull-up, two bounce pull-up in the middle of the lane. Obviously, there are areas that he can get a lot better in, but this kid scores really high on the `wow' scale. He's an impact guard. I watched him play at an event in April. The thing that stood out to me is his swagger. He walks on to the court and he knows that he belongs there. He wants the ball in his hands and he can really score. The challenge with E.J. when he gets to Indiana is challenging him to get better, challenging him to improve and get better, and I think he will. I'm really impressed with his family, his mother and father, his two brothers, his grandmother, his grandfather, his entire family. It's been a pleasure to get to know that family.
How will you best utilize E.J.'s talent?
There's a freedom that a kid like that is going to have to be allowed to play with. The thing you learn to do with really talented kids is don't over-coach them. Don't put them in a box. But at the same time, we're going to play as a team. The thing I like about E.J. in talking with him, especially the last couple of weeks, is how much he embraces that. He wants to win. People can evaluate kids as players, but a lot of times unless you really know him, you don't really know what the kids are all about. I like the fact that E.J. wants to come to Indiana and win. That's a big part of who he is. He can go score, and that's what he does best. We're going to let him do that.
Of all the players that you've coached, who does E.J. remind you of?
Let me preface this by saying that I'm not putting him on the level of any of the players. The kid that Eric reminds me of, because of his strength, is Gilbert Arenas. That's who I saw when I saw him. I remember seeing Gilbert out of high school, and there's a lot of that in his game. What a guy like Gilbert Arenas brought to the table is that he's got a high level of nasty in him. I mean that complimentary, the toughness part, an attitude. That's an area where he's just cold-blooded. I think that's an area where when E.J. gets into college and develops his game, I think that's what you're going to see from him.
Talk about your recruiting philosophy, if they might only stay for a year?
I don't worry about that. It's not really part of the day-to-day routine of coaching a kid. E.J. will get here when North Central is out in the summer, I'm assuming in June, he'll get here for summer school, and be part of our program like any other kid. He's going to work, he's going to be part of our team, we're going to push him, and at the end of the first year, you take it as it goes. I don't think you can plan your future, I think you have to live in the present. That's the advice I've given him.
Talk about how much ground you had to make up in recruiting after being hired here?
A lot of it is our staff. We put a lot of thought into who we wanted to hire as assistant coaches. I have to give a lot of credit to our assistant coaches. If you've been in this business a long time, the coaches know you. There's a credibility that's built up over the years. That was the one thing that we had coming here, is that wherever we went, we were embraced. We didn't have to fight a lot of the outside stuff. Coach Senderoff, Coach Meyer, Coach McCallum, I can't say enough about the job that they did. The first thing that we did was evaluate what we needed. Recruiting is not trying to get a top-10 class. I couldn't care less about rankings; I've never been interested in that. I think that for the last seven or eight years we averaged 25-26 wins at Oklahoma. I couldn't tell you where one class was ranked. I could tell you we were pretty good. We had good players. My rankings come from my assistant coaches in my eyes. If we think a kid is a good player, we know how we coach. I think that's where having an assistant to recruit to is important. You know how you want to play. You know if a kid is good enough to play. Because of the circumstances from April, that's where we have to rely on credibility, but also having a great staff that works countless hours at establishing relationships and getting kids on campus. We did a great job getting these kids on campus. Eli Holman, Brandon McGee, and some other kids. All the kids that we've signed today or will sign today, we've seen these kids play, and I've evaluated them. But my assistant coaches did a great job at getting them on campus.
Not being able to travel, what differences did you find between Indiana and Oklahoma?
So far, none. Recruiting is recruiting. We went at such a high level at Oklahoma, it's not like you're recruiting a higher level of kids. Being at a new school and being associated with that school, obviously the work that we did at Oklahoma is where my credibility comes from. But as time goes on, I will be known as the coach at Indiana, whereas the kids that know me, the people that we recruited, our contacts know me from Oklahoma. I'm excited about that. I'm excited as we move forward with that. This is our first recruiting class. We may sign a kid or two in April as well. But we're certainly going to have a recruiting class next year and the following year and the following year. That's where the difference is in that. The differences will be known in the future.
Talk about the process of recruiting E.J.
I don't know dates, but I know that contact was made in early April. Then it just went from there. I'm not going to get into the specifics or give you a timeline of how this all happened. The bottom line is that this kid grew up in Indiana, he's an Indiana kid, and he wanted to go to Indiana. There was a request to sit down and talk by his dad, and then it went from there.
Talk about the importance of strength training in high school.
Eli is not a kid who is going to get a whole lot bigger between now and June. His body will evolve as he goes along, but our focus will be on June. The NCAA rule is different than it was 10-12 years ago, and you can get kids on campus in the summer and put them on scholarship now. That's where freshmen have a leg up from where they used to 20 years ago and even 10 years ago. We can bring them in June. Think about it, June, July, and August. The most important thing is that they get to take classes. They'll be able to take six credits. And while they're here taking classes, they can get a summer job and work out with our strength coach. The coaching staff can't work with these kids. We can't even watch them in the weight room. But our strength coach can, and that's why that guy becomes important. A guy like Eli's improvement will be substantial from June through October. But where he'll have his greatest impact, especially in the area of strength, will be in March after his freshman year to March after his sophomore year, once that season's over. He's going to get bigger and stronger, and you can see how he's going to fill out. I was looking at something from D.J. White, the year that he came to Indiana. He was about 220, and at one point this summer, he was up to 260. Like most kids during the season, his weight will fall off. Eli's a kid who will eventually play at around 250.
Will Eli's defense be ahead of his offense?
He might be that the rest of his life. I don't mean that to put down his offense. The kid is a phenomenal shot blocker. Shot blocking is a timing thing. Watch a jump ball circle. Watch the opening tap. Watch how some 6-10 kids never get the opening tip. They can't get it. Timing, they can't get there quick enough. It's not how high you jump; it's how quick you jump. That's the thing that separates Eli, he is a quick jumper. I think being left-handed gives him an advantage five feet from the rim. There's a lot of left-handers, one of the best post guys I had at Oklahoma was a guy named Aaron McGhee. I know that offensively it was an advantage for him. Aaron wasn't a shot blocker, but he was a heck of an offensive player. Holman is more of a defensive player. But that's our challenge. We're excited to get Eli in here and work with him, and help him improve his offensive skills. But that's a timing thing. He's just got to get better at certain things. If he's got a good work ethic, he will. Kids that have good work ethics usually improve. Lazy kids never do.
Talk about E.J.'s ability to play defense.
Every high school kid I've ever recruited needed improvement on defense. I've had some sophomores that did too. I've been around this squad for two months now, and I've got some seniors that do too. E.J. is athletic, he's quick, and he's smart. There's no reason why he can't be a very good defender.
How much of an impact can Eric Gordon make here?
He'll make a big impact. He's an impact guard. The year that we played Indiana in the Final Four, the very next year we went to the Elite Eight. We were 40 minutes away from going back to the Final Four. The team that beat us was Syracuse. They had a freshman by the name of Carmelo Anthony. Impact players impact the game in their own way. I thought that Carmelo was as good of a rebounder, getting the ball off the glass, as any freshman that I've ever seen. I've never seen a freshman that could rebound at his level. He just had a knack for that. He's a good shot blocker. He's a great, great, rebounder. But look at the players he had around him. Gerry McNamara, Hakim Warrick. He came in and impacted that, not with gaudy numbers, but with his presence. Eric, as our team develops, will impact us in his way. He's just a dynamite, dynamite offensive player.
Talk about the recruiting process, and when did you feel confident that you had Eric Gordon?
I can't remember exactly the timing of any of that. I know that he and his family made it clear that this was something they really wanted to explore. There are no guarantees with that. A lot has been said about it. You'd like to set the record straight on a lot of that stuff, but I'm not going to get into setting the record straight. I just know what we did. Think about a kid that is committed to another school. We don't do that; coaches don't recruit kids who are committed to other schools. If that was the case, then you could do that a lot. I think that this situation is certainly unique, and I hope it doesn't happen again.
Was it difficult to sell Indiana basketball when you haven't experienced Indiana basketball?
No, but I think that's where the credibility comes in. The one thing that I got from the coaches in this state is that I could feel that they were looking forward to coming to watch our practices. We haven't had a practice yet where we haven't had four or five high school coaches from all over the state of Indiana at practice. Having been a head coach for a long period of time and having had some tough, hard-nosed teams, I think coaches respect that.
When you recruit, do you just take into account their talent, or do you look at the chemistry they might have?
No. I'm not smart enough to figure all that out. The kids you recruit, the first thing that they have to be is talented. Let's not play games there. You can slice that pie all you want to, but if he's not good enough, we're not recruiting him. Then after that is where you get into character. Will he fit into the university community? From there, I try not to make it too complicated.
Do you expect to sign five guys from this class in this signing period?
Wait and see. There's a possibility of that.
Is there a need, position-wise, with that last spot?
That last spot is fluid. It's kind of like how everyone wants to stay on the cutting edge. The cutting edge always changes. When a new coach comes into a program, there are multiple needs. I remember when Mr. Greenspan introduced me to the team for the very first time. I remember that day. I look from that day to right now, and we've taken some unbelievable strides. That's why I'm excited about the future of this program. The future is bright. This recruiting class gives us a chance to be competitive at a high level in this league. That's what recruiting classes should do. Coaches don't recruit to be ranked. You recruit to fill needs. Rankings are for people to get excited reading about it. I don't get excited reading about rankings. I get excited reading about how Eric Gordon can help us win games, and how Brandon McGee can fit into our team. How Eli Holman can develop as a player. Also, the development of Armon Bassett. I know today is to talk about recruits, but I'm excited about Armon's development. A.J. Ratliff taking the next step for him, which is to be tougher and letting it go instead of holding back some things. Seeing Ben Allen develop. I'm excited about our team and our program and having these guys here next summer and working with them and seeing them progress. I'm excited about this year. That's the feeling around our program this year. There's a lot to be excited about.
Talk about the banquet tonight, and having so many former players here.
I've had a lot of people talk to me about issues and things like that, and this is such a great university and the basketball program has such great tradition that has been made by coaches, players and fans. I don't think a entity was responsible for it. I think there are a lot of people responsible for Indiana being great. You see it with the great coaches. You go back to Coach McCracken and Coach Knight. Directly or indirectly, Coach Knight influenced a generation of coaches. A whole generation of us, especially my age and a little younger, looked up to guys like Coach Smith at North Carolina, Coach Knight, and Coach Thompson at Georgetown. Those guys influenced us because those are the guys that we saw. There was a morning about a month ago when I probably spent about two and a half hours sitting down talking to Quinn Buckner. I've had great talks with Scott May, and Kent Benson, John Laskowski and Tom Abernathy. Damon Bailey came in to speak at our camp this summer. I sat down and talked with him and Greg Graham both. I learned more about Indiana basketball listening to those two guys, and the value of it to those guys. That's what the tradition is all about. You appreciate the former players coming, but tonight is about this team. These kids. I appreciate the former players coming, but the stars at Indiana right now are D.J. White, and Rod Wilmont, Ben Allen, Lance Stemler. I want people to get excited about this basketball team as we move forward. I think that we have to constantly honor the past. If not for those guys, guys like me don't get this opportunity.
Did the new facilities factor into the recruiting process?
It helps some, but when you think about it, I think the timeline on the new facilities will probably be two seasons from where we are now. When I think of facilities for some reason I look up and see Jeff Cowen stand back there, and I know what a stalwart he was behind the scenes helping something like that happen. These guys were excited; they were excited about the future at Indiana and the possibilities here. They really need to see it. You can talk about it all you want, but it impacts them when you see it. It's an incredible boost, especially when you get kids on campus.