By Anthony Slater – Aslater@opubco.com - @anthonyVslater
To his core, Wizards coach Randy Wittman is an Indiana man.
He grew up in Indianapolis, won a 1981 national championship for Bob Knight’s Hoosiers and was named to the IU Basketball Hall of Fame in 1996.
So, as expected, Wittman was excited about the current state of his alma mater’s resurgent basketball program. Indiana, the top-seed in the East Region, is considered one of the favorites to win this year’s national title.
“It’s been really gratifying these last two years to see them take the steps they have,” Wittman said.
But what makes it even more gratifying to Wittman, he said, is how quickly the program has recovered from the Kelvin Sampson era, which included various recruiting violations that led to crippling sanctions levied by the NCAA.
“It was run into the ground in the matter of 18 months,” Wittman said. “That’s a storied program with a rich tradition that was built up over 30, 40, 50 years. And in the matter of 18 months, it was torn completely down.”
Tom Crean took over the program in 2008, after Sampson was fired, and Indiana predictably struggled in his first two seasons, with combined records of 16-46 overall and 5-31 in the Big Ten. But the past two years, Crean has resurrected the program and produced combined records of 56-15 overall and 25-11 in the Big Ten.
“They had to start from completely scratch,” Wittman said. “Tom’s first couple teams, it was not very pretty. I give a lot of credit for them sticking to it and returning the team back to prominence. So I’m really, really happy for him and the university.”
Wittman isn’t the only one who has been highly critical of Sampson (a former OU coach and current Houston Rockets assistant).
Ted Kitchel, an outspoken Hoosier alum and one of Wittman’s former teammates, called the Sampson hire ”an absolute disgrace” at the time, saying “I wouldn’t hire that guy to coach my fifth-grade girls team. That guy is absolutely what we don’t want at IU.”
Also, earlier this season, Crean came under a bit of heat when he was caught on camera berating one of Sampson’s former assistants, Jeff Meyer, after the Hoosiers beat Michigan (where Meyer is currently an assistant) in Ann Arbor.
Crean told Meyer: “You know what you did. You helped wreck our program.”