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.
I learned more in a week in the NBA than I did in a year in college. There were so many things I didn't know – the timeout pattern; how to defend the pick-and-roll; how the defensive 3-second rule impacts the weak-side defense and strong-side defense; why teams zone and why teams don't.
I learned quickly in the NBA that you keep one eye open at all times and one ear closed. You can't react to everything you hear or see.
Micromanagers and over-reactors don't make it in the NBA. You have to learn to let things go.
We're all a product of our environment, but there's a lot of guys who got a start because of who their dad was who turn out to be great coaches, too. One of the best coaches I know who never really got the proper credit was Dan Monson. He probably got his start because his dad was a coach, but he earned his road as he's gone forward.
I get attached emotionally and I invest emotionally into whatever I do.
I felt comfortable when they asked me to take over for Kevin (McHale), but thinking about Kevin and his family … since he left Nov. 10, I've talked to him every day, sometimes two or three times a day. Sometimes I just put the phone to my ear and just let him talk, just let him talk about his daughter, about his family, go wherever he wants to go, just be a friend. Coaching the team is the easy part to me. This is a good team to coach.
This (Houston Rockets) team is not made to play in half-court. We're a jump-shot shooting team and we have to have as many possessions as possible for our best chance to win.
My father (Ned) is still the biggest influence I've had in my life, as a person and as a coach. He was the best at doing more with less. When I look at the way I started my career at Montana Tech and Washington State, that was a great way for me to start my career, especially when I took those programs over. I had to learn to do that.
As my teams changed, I had to change. You don't approach every team the same. You don't have a one-way-or-the-highway approach that you do no matter what. As my teams have changed, I think I've done a good job of adapting. That might not have been the most appeasing to the eye, but that was the way we had to play to win the game.
When I left college ball, I think I was prepared to coach a team, but I don't think I was prepared to help the team win. I didn't realize the difference between coaching college and coaching the NBA. It's a totally different animal.
Defining what a great basketball wife is kind of goes to my involvement-commitment analogy. To serve bacon and eggs, there's two animals involved in that meal. The chicken was involved, but the pig was committed. That's Karen, she's committed.
In a lot of ways, Kellen is Karen and Lauren is me. I think Kellen got his best qualities from Karen. Lauren is a lot like me in a lot of ways. I think they got the best of both of us.
I think Kellen is going to be a good coach. He's further along as a coach than I was at his age. For one thing, he's smarter than I was, but that goes back to having his mother's best qualities.
Karen is honest, meticulous, has great attention to detail, leaves no stone unturned. She's amazing that way, and she's just got a heart of gold. Probably the best person I've ever been around is Karen.