February 25, 2008

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Just a day after Kelvin Sampson resigned as Indiana's head coach, it was as if he was never there -- at least to the fans.

For the Indiana supporters on hand to watch the Hoosiers defeat Northwestern on Saturday it was simple: There was nothing else the school could do.

"At Indiana you're expected to do two things, win and win the right way. You've got to find someone that fits the bill," said Dave Moore, 24, who stated he's attended all but five Hoosiers games in the past 20 years. "Mike Davis, he did everything the right way but he didn't win enough. And coach Sampson, he won enough but he didn't win the right way. So we've got to find a guy that can win and win the right way."

Or as Anne Dusold, an Indiana fan from Chicago, put it, "He cheated, he's out." Her husband, Jim, a 1977 graduate of Indiana, added, "They had to do this. They didn't have a choice."

After a whirlwind week in Bloomington, Ind., when speculation of Sampson's future dominated the conversation, most Indiana fans in sold-out Welsh-Ryan Arena were already past the Sampson era a day after he took a $750,000 buyout to resign. They said they were ready to move on with interim head coach Dan Dakich, who was hired in June of 2007 as the team's director of operations before being promoted to assistant coach in October.

When Dakich walked out of the tunnel onto the floor about two minutes before tipoff, he received a huge ovation from the crowd, which was more than two-thirds Indiana fans. When he walked to his bench across the court, he got a standing ovation and the crowd cheered with an arena-rocking force. Chants of "I-U" dominated in what was technically a road game.

"All along, I thought Dakich was kind of Plan B for Sampson when he was hired," said Scott Ryder, a Kalamazoo, Mich., resident and Indiana Law School graduate who came to Evanston for the game. "Everybody deserves a second chance, but what Sampson was thinking? Why he did what he did, why he would do it again -- it's just mind-boggling."

At first, it didn't seem that the team shared those sentiments -- reportedly in Dakich's first practice Friday afternoon, six players, including D.J. White and Armon Bassett, weren't in attendance. But after the game Dakich, who played for former coach Bob Knight at Indiana and spent 10 seasons as the head coach at Bowling Green, said it was not a boycott by those players, as "anybody that knows anything about my background knows that soft is not one of the things I'm known as, but the kids needed time and needed space. The truth of the matter is they still do."

But Bryan Wysocke, a 23-year-old Indiana fan from Schaumburg, Ill., thought it was a calculated move by the players, many of whom played with K.S. written on their shoes as a tribute to their former coach.

"I was a little worried," Wysocke said at halftime. "I mean, they're idiots. That's not going to prove anything, not showing up to practice. It's not going to change what happened. They play for the school, not for the coach."

Throughout the game, Scott Matuga, who sat a few rows up behind Northwestern's bench, held up a sign saying "Is Bobby The Next coach" in a play off of the Big Ten Network's BTN logo and referring to former Indiana coach Bob Knight.

Matuga was part of a group of four men who called themselves "The Boys." The 1987 Indiana graduates came from northwest Indiana, Wisconsin and New Jersey to watch the game. When asked what they thought of Sampson's resignation, one of The Boys, Marc Jeffries, said he was "extremely disappointed" with the decision before he was cut off by Matuga.

"I am extremely happy," Matuga said. "Of all the things IU is about, one thing we're not about is cheating. And I'm happy to see Sampson gone. He's a great coach, a great recruiter, but I'm happy to see him out of there."

With Indiana down 37-35 at halftime against the Big Ten bottom dweller, Jefferies said he was a little nervous about Dakich's start.

"IU looked out of sync," he said. "They looked out of sync with a new coach."

"But I don't think we're worried," Matuga added.

With the majority Indiana crowd going out of its way to show support for Dakich and the team, the ill will toward Indiana came from the Northwestern fans, especially the student section.

Northwestern freshmen John Kineslla and Quingwu Kong, sitting in their usual seats in the front row of the student section within shouting distance of Indiana's bench, were finishing a sign reading "Hoosier Coach?" 20 minutes before tipoff.

"We're thinking about asking [Indiana freshman] Eric Gordon if Sampson has called him lately," said Kinsella, who wore a shirt that read "Call Me Sampson." Kong's shirt, which, like Kinsella's, came from a promotion from a previous Northwestern game and originally said only "Call Me," read "Sampson Call Me Sometime."

While Indiana fans tried to take over the arena, the Northwestern student section continued to taunt the Hoosiers. When Gordon took free throw attempts at the 12-minute mark of the first half, the Northwestern student section became silent, then held up their cell phones and began chanting "Sampson's calling." Gordon made both free throws.

After Indiana escaped the Cats, who are winless in the Big Ten, with the 85-82 victory, Jody Biancardi, an Indiana fan from Highland, Ind., said he was glad the week was over.

"It was a hectic week in Bloomington. That's all you kept hearing about, is Sampson going to get fired? Is he not? Is he going to resign? Is he not? I'm just glad that they got the W," he said. "Dakich doesn't want too many more games like that though. I know that for a fact."

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