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Indiana adapting to change

By Brian Landman, Times Staff Writer
Published March 1, 2008


Indiana interim coach Dan Dakich didn't think six players skipping practice Feb. 22 was as big a deal as some folks made it out to be given the circumstances.

The practice was just a few hours after the players were told Kelvin Sampson, their coach and a father figure to many, agreed to a buyout and was done amid charges of NCAA violations.

"I'm amused by adults saying how kids should react, particularly adults who don't deal with kids on a daily basis," said Dakich, a former IU star. "These are kids who had to figure out a number of things."

He never believed those players would actually boycott. By 6 or 6:30 p.m. that Friday, a day before a game at Northwestern, Dakich said he was receiving text messages from the missing players, all of whom showed up for the trip.

Oh by the way, the Hoosiers won the game 85-82, then eked out another tough win 72-69 Tuesday at home against Ohio State. That's four straight since the NCAA-Sampson saga erupted. The 12th-ranked Hoosiers are at No. 19 Michigan State on Sunday.

"These are 18- to 22-year-old kids," Dakich said. "You've worked every day since August or since last summer with a coach who's brought you to the point to 22-4 and now he's gone. That's hard. I'm 45 years old and have been through a few things and it wasn't easy for me. I've been around kids long enough to know how difficult that was for them and I understood. If I was a player at Indiana and this same thing happened to Coach Bob Knight, there'd have been mayhem. I'd have been crazy. So I get it."

Who's got next?

Big Ten fans are familiar with an interim coach leading a team to the national title (Steve Fisher, Michigan, 1988-89 season). If that doesn't happen again, here's some candidates for IU to consider:

Coach Comment

Tony Bennett    National coach of the year last season as rookie at Washington State; father, Dick, coached Wisconsin.

Mark Few     Has kept Gonzaga an elite team and would fit here. IU flirted with him in '06.

Mike Montgomery    Ex-Stanford coach has impeccable resume, NBA stint notwithstanding.

Steve Alford   Hoosier hero and ex-Iowa coach is at New Mexico. Maybe it's his time.

Scott Skiles    Indiana native, former Michigan State star and NBA player and coach.

Bob Knight    Maybe you can go home again. He does look good in red.

Isiah Thomas    Ex-Hoosier and, hey, he has never had trouble with the NCAA.

Not just Memphis

Maybe Memphis coach John Calipari is simply talking up his league, Conference USA. That's what all coaches do; they stump for their brethren and, by extension, themselves.

But maybe he also has a valid point.

Maybe the league is on the way back after a tumultuous shakeup in 2005.

Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette USF and DePaul bolted for the Big East, Charlotte and Saint Louis left for the Atlantic 10 and Texas Christian went to the Mountain West. In their place came UCF, UTEP, Tulsa, Rice, SMU and Marshall. Not exactly perennial powers.

"You just don't take away and add teams to a league and two years later you're in the top five leagues in the country," said Calipari, whose Tigers have gone 13-1, 16-0 and 13-0 in league play since. "To be where we are with all that went on is amazing. Amazing."

Houston is 21-6 and UAB is 20-8 and both are on the bubble for an NCAA Tournament at-large. Last year, only Memphis represented CUSA in the tournament.

By the numbers

6 Games North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson has missed since spraining his left ankle against Florida State; he could return today against Boston College.

18 Game winning streak by Davidson, longest in the nation. Up next: at Georgia Southern today.

45 Game homecourt winning streak by BYU, longest in the nation. Up next: Air Force today.

52 Points by Houston senior G Robert McKiver in a 95-67 win against Southern Mississippi on Wednesday, the most in the NCAA this year and most by a Cougar since Elvin Hayes had 51 against Virginia Tech in 1968.

Quotable

"I think it's a little bit of both, the players and the coach (laughs). I'm just glad to have this opportunity and the guys are responding."

Butch Pierre, LSU interim coach, whose Tigers have won two straight entering Sunday's game against Georgia

Brian Landman can be reached at landman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3347.