Collected wisdom: Kelvin Sampson, Houston Rockets interim coach and former Oklahoma basketball coach

Kelvin Sampson coached for 12 seasons at Oklahoma (1994-2006) and advanced to the NCAA Tournament 11 times, including the 2002 Final Four when he was named NABC coach of the year.
Interviewed by John Rohde Published: December 1, 2012
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photo - Houston Rockets assistant coach Kelvin Sampson directs the players in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012, in Houston. Sampson is handling coaching duties until head coach Kevin McHale returns from family business. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
Houston Rockets assistant coach Kelvin Sampson directs the players in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012, in Houston. Sampson is handling coaching duties until head coach Kevin McHale returns from family business. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

Kelvin Sampson coached for 12 seasons at Oklahoma (1994-2006) and advanced to the NCAA Tournament 11 times, including the 2002 Final Four when he was named NABC coach of the year. He was 1995 Associated Press coach of the year, his first season with the Sooners, won three straight Big 12 Tournament titles (2001-03) and shared the 2005 Big 12 regular-season crown.

When he accepted the Indiana job in 2006, Sampson left with a 279-109 record and the best winning percentage (.719) of any OU men's basketball coach. However, the Sooners and Hoosiers suffered NCAA sanctions under Sampson's watch for impermissible phone calls to recruits. Fired at Indiana before the end of his second season there, Sampson joined the San Antonio Spurs staff two weeks later in an advisory role. He then became an assistant for the Milwaukee Bucks and joined the Houston Rockets staff in 2011.

Sampson married the former Karen Lowery and they have a daughter, Lauren (30), who is a pharmaceutical rep, and a son, Kellen (27), who is an assistant at Appalachian State.

When Karen and I started dating, a big part of our dating life was watch ACC basketball on Saturday afternoons at her house. Back then, I was always a Dean Smith fan. I loved the way he treated high school coaches. Coach Smith would invite all the high school coaches to the blue-white scrimmage and he would personally shake their hand, greet them, look them in the eye and just treated them so good.

I coached against a lot of really good coaches in college, two of them have Oklahoma ties. Eddie Sutton and Bill Self are as good as it gets when it comes to coaching basketball.

I really liked Norman. I liked raising my kids in Norman. That was a traumatic move for us moving from Washington State to Norman. Lauren was in seventh grade. Kellen was in fourth grade. That had a lot to do with us not leaving (for other jobs). I just didn't want to move my family. I was a lot happier in Oklahoma than people ever realized.

The most frustrating thing for me at Oklahoma was those first-round tournament losses. That drove me nuts. I know that was had great years, but those are disappointing and I know they were disappointing for our fans. After a while, that just starts eating at you.

When you become successful, you get defined by what you do in March (as a college coach) and we kept coming up short. That really bothered me. That bothered me more than I let on. I had to always say the right things, obviously, but deep down inside losing to Manhattan (in the first round in 1995), losing to Indiana State (in 2001), and also losing to Purdue in the second round (in 2000) bothered me because I thought that team could get to the Elite Eight.

If we had played a more entertaining style, I don't know if we would have been as successful. The good thing was we had the ability to play different ways, and I think that's part of coaching.

When the year is over you sit back and take inventory, especially as the years piled on — 12 years is a long time to stay at a school. Deep in the recesses I had those thoughts (of retirement). I know I did. I don't think I took them anywhere but, yeah, I had those thoughts.

After beating Arizona (in the first round as a No. 13 seed in 1999), that Ramada Inn in Milwaukee was the greatest hotel I'd ever stayed in my life because we won two games.

There are some guys in the NBA who are great at coaching basketball and there are some who are really great at managing their team, allowing their players to coach themselves.

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