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Kelvin Sampson Q&A
OU Boss talks about keys to climbing the mountain

In years past, Kelvin Sampson’s name popped up regularly on the national radar screen as a possible candidate for jobs other than the one he owned and loved at Oklahoma. No matter how many times the veteran coach denied having any interest in leaving Norman, speculation concerning Sampson’s future destination was unavoidable.

But that was then, a period during the late 1990s before Sampson had been given time to reestablish Oklahoma basketball as a national power. These days, there are few coaches as entrenched in their jobs and devoted to their programs as is the Sooner boss.

The only discussions concerning Sampson’s possible departure over the last few seasons has centered around which NCAA regional site his team might be flying to come March.

Over the last six seasons, only five Division-I programs have averaged more wins than Sampson’s Sooners. During that span, OU has captured three Big 12 Tournament titles, a regular-season crown and made a trip to the NCAA Final Four.

To say Sampson is proud of his program’s accomplishments and excited about the future would be a major understatement. But just to make sure, Sooner Spectator editor Jay C. Upchurch sat down with Sampson recently to discuss a few topics.

Sooner Spectator: What’s the most difficult aspect of being a Division-I basketball coach?

Kelvin Sampson: I’d probably say maintaining a good balance in your life, not allowing what you do for a living to define who you are as a person. I believe you really have to work at that. As you get older, it becomes more clear that you have to live your life. We all have occupations and careers, but the most important thing you have going is your family and all that that entails.

SS: What is it about this Oklahoma program that has captured your imagination and kept you here for 12 years?

Sampson: I think it’s a good fit. It has been from the start. You want to be at a place where people appreciate you and you feel like you have a chance to succeed. We have that here at Oklahoma and we’ve had good kids. I love to coach, but I don’t enjoy every aspect of the job. I enjoy being on the floor with a whistle around my neck, motivating and pushing a group of kids to reach deep inside for that something extra. To see a kid all of the sudden have the light come on and see his face and the way he responds — there is a feeling of completeness that comes from that.

We’ve been consistently successful during my time here at Oklahoma. If you are not successful at this level, obviously, it’s not going to be much fun. We’ve created — through the Information Highway, through March Madness and through the media — a crazy standard. And it’s taken the fun out of it for a lot of coaches. Every year, I write down on a 3x5 index card, ‘Don’t forget why you got into this profession.’ Don’t let other people define who you are. You can’t allow winning or losing a game, or somebody else’s definition of success define who you are. That’s important.

SS: How do you define your style of basketball?

Sampson. Honestly, my style has always been the same — it’s winning. I’ve always determined my style by what the scoreboard says.

SS: What characteristics are the foundation of a Kelvin Sampson-coached team?

Sampson: First of all, competitiveness. We build our program on competitive kids who do things the right way. Your life is a lot more simple when you do things the right way. Kids are going to make mistakes. We all are going to make mistakes. But you can always tell when their hearts are in the right place. We look for quality young men who you’ll be proud to have representing your university, your family. They have to buy into that fact.

SS: What is it about this current group that you like the most?

Sampson: Their spirit. They play hard and they have great chemistry. We have quality young men playing here. These are really high-level kids. They are all going to graduate from here and they will all be successful in their lives because of who they are. This bunch has really blended together. I can always tell we have great chemistry when our players demonstrate they know when to shoot and when to pass. That’s always defined our chemistry. It’s great that they get along well together, but that kind of stuff can be overrated. Give me a team that knows when to pass and when to shoot and I’ll show you a team with good chemistry.

SS: What are some of the other strengths of the 2005-06 Sooners?

Sampson: We’ll be able to rebound the ball. We’re going to be very athletic. We are going to be a good defensive team. We aren’t where I want to be yet, but we’re getting better. You can make an argument that we’re never where I want us to be defensively, but I can definitely see daily improvements and we’ll eventually get there. I also believe this team is going to generate a lot of easy baskets with our defense. You can’t be a great offensive team or shoot a high percentage unless you are shooting layups and creating easy baskets. That usually comes from offensive rebounds and getting fastbreaks.

SS: Is this program in the best shape it has been in during your time here?

Sampson: I’ve always felt good about this program. I felt good about it before we went to the Final Four and I felt strongly about it after that. Even the year we went to the NIT, I understood that. This isn’t Nirvana. When you have an injury or you’re missing a key player, you usually get sympathy from the fans and the media for a couple of games. After that, they want to know what’s wrong. We did a lot of good things, made a lot of progress as a program during that season, especially down the stretch when we won three of our last four and almost beat Texas (in the Big 12 Tournament). It may not have shown to the naked eye, but that team came a long way and that was important to our success last season.

We’ve got a lot of good people involved in this program. And we’re getting ready to sign an outstanding group of recruits, so we are going to be good this season. And we are going to be good next season and the season after that. Where are we at as a program? We’re very, very strong.

SS: So, is the ultimate goal for this program always going to be winning a national title?

Sampson: Yes. Our goal will always be to work toward that goal. I don’t believe that is unrealistic. We’ve been to the mountain top. We’ve seen it. We just weren’t able to stick a flag in it. Our goal is to get back on that mountain and to climb to the top and not leave until we stick a flag in there.

SS: Does this team have what it takes to do that?

Sampson: Why not? I don’t think we are the best team in the country right now, but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is how you improve and get better incrementally over the course of the season. We’re not as good today as we will be on December 2, or January 2. One of the main trademarks of this program over the years has been its ability to make significant improvement as the season unfolds. That will again be a key for this year’s team.

(Editor's Note: This interview originally appeared the SS basketball preview issue.)