College Basketball Nation: Houston Rockets

Kelvin Sampson, NBA head coach?

April, 27, 2011
4/27/11
9:15
AM ET
Talking about falling upward.

When Kelvin Sampson resigned his prestigious coaching position at Indiana amid a phone call scandal that crippled the Hoosiers and earned him a five year show-cause penalty -- just about the harshest individual penalty the NCAA Committee on Infractions can levy -- it was assumed Sampson would go away for a while. A show-cause is designed to instill exile, resigning its victims to (hopefully) deserved trips on the coaching seminar and/or NBA developmental league circuit.

For a time, it looked like Sampson's career would take that path. Soon after Sampson finished his hearing with the COI, he took a job as an advisor to San Antonio Spurs coach Greg Popovich. His next gig -- an assistant's position under Milwaukee Bucks coach Scott Skiles -- was a solid step up, sure. But for a proud coach like Sampson, one who had tasted the pinnacle of the college profession, a move to Milwaukee couldn't have been the ideal career move.

Nevermind all that; Sampson has officially turned his show-cause into an honest-to-goodness career boost. According to the Houston Chronicle, the former Indiana and Oklahoma coach met with Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey -- also known as Dork Elvis on other parts of this here ESPN.com -- Tuesday. They weren't meeting for fun. Sampson and Morey were meeting about the Rockets' vacant head coaching position.

Now, there's nothing to say that Sampson is going to get the job. Morey has asked to speak to a slew of other candidates, according to the Chronicle. Those candidates include former NBA coaches Lawrence Frank and Mike Woodson and current Rockets assistants Jack Sikma and Mario Elie, all of whom will interview this week.

Nor is there any reason, assuming Morey thinks he's qualified, that Sampson shouldn't get the job. The NBA job is about X's and O's and the soft power of player management. It's not about recruiting. It's not about three-way calls. In the Association, you can use your work Blackberry as much as you want.

Still, it is a remarkable professional turnaround for the formerly disgraced IU coach. Consider this: Last summer, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo -- one of the most professionally secure and publicly lauded coaches in the college game -- agonized for weeks about taking a job with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He ultimately deferred, but the point remains: An NBA job is a destination. For many in the college game, it's a dream.

In less than three years, Kelvin Sampson has gone from disgrace, embarrassment, and scandal to the precipice of that dream. Professional turnarounds don't get much more mercurial than that.

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