MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

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April 3, 2014

Sampson gets new life at Houston

HOUSTON  — Houston introduced Kelvin Sampson as their men’s basketball coach on Thursday, confident that he can bring the once-proud program back to prominence and undeterred by his past improprieties with the NCAA.

Sampson committed numerous NCAA violations regarding impermissible calls to recruits at both Oklahoma and Indiana, resulting in a five-year show cause order from the NCAA in 2008 which effectively barred him from coaching in college. That order expired last year.

On Thursday, Sampson vowed that NCAA compliance will be his staff’s highest priority and didn’t shy away from his checkered past when he was introduced as the successor to James Dickey, who resigned last month citing family issues.

“Mistakes were made, lessons were learned, while I don’t agree with all the conclusions that the NCAA made, I respect their decision and respect the NCAA as an institution,” Sampson said in his opening comments.

Though Sampson touched on his past troubles on Thursday, he wasn’t exactly thrilled at repeated questions about his NCAA violations.

“I’m excited about the future,” he said. “That stuff is in the past — all of it.”

He takes over a program with a rich history that has fallen on tough times in the last two decades. The Cougars have made 19 NCAA tournaments, but just one of those appearances has come since 1992 and they finished 17-16 this season. These Cougars are far removed from the Phi Slama Jama teams starring Hakeem Olajuwon, Elvin Hayes and Clyde Drexler in the 1980s which made five Final Four trips, including three in a row from 1982-84.

Sampson, who has been an assistant with the Houston Rockets since 2011, coached Oklahoma from 1994-2006 and Indiana from 2006-08. He made 11 NCAA tournaments during his tenure at Oklahoma, reaching the round of 16 in 1999, the Final Four in 2002 and the round of eight in 2003.

Sampson is popular with players and fellow coaches alike and Rockets’ All-Star James Harden and point guard Pat Beverley were on campus Thursday for his introduction at Houston.

“To see him going back to what he loves in a head coaching job is amazing,” Harden said. “He’s a great coach, tremendous head coach and I’m glad he has another opportunity at it.”

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