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Former players call on IU fans to support Sampson

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Quinn Buckner distanced himself from Indiana basketball after Bob Knight was fired six years ago. Now he thinks its time to get reacquainted with the program and hopes Hoosiers fans follow him.

Buckner joined other former Indiana players Friday in offering their support to new coach Kelvin Sampson.

"I was in the shower, and I said to myself 'You've got to get over this. This your university and at some point, you've got to be supportive of what they do whether you like it or not,"' Buckner said. "It's still Indiana University."

The players were in Indianapolis for a reunion to celebrate Knight's three national championship teams. Knight did not attend the reunion.

But Knight's firing created a fracture among Hoosiers fans and former-players. Buckner, for instance, said he has attended only one Indiana home game since Knight's firing in September 2000. The son of Buckner's teammate, Sean May, helped North Carolina win a
national championship last year.

Others like Kent Benson, who played on the 1976 undefeated team with Buckner and May, attended Indiana games frequently despite being upset with the university's handling of Knight.

Benson also appeared upset no Indiana graduates were interviewed for the job after coach Mike Davis announced his resignation Feb. 16.

Most at Friday's event, though, felt it was finally time to turn the page -- including Buckner, who said his frustration was directed at the university administration and not Davis or his coaching staff.

"I think I've got to review that now, and whether I continue to take that position (not attending games)," he said. "I'm so close to coach Knight, even though I think he's culpable in this, my university mishandled it.

"I think in order for it to move back, we need to be a part of the process."

Sampson is already making progress in the healing process.

He called some former players before Friday's reunion to see whether he would be welcome at the celebration. Then he showed up.

"I think it's time to bury the Knight era," said Steve Risley, who played on the 1981 championship team. "I think one of the biggest mistakes any university can make is trying to perpetuate that era. Look at UCLA, look at North Carolina, trying to bring a disciple out of that era. I was not a big proponent of a former player coming in."

Risley also called the hiring of Sampson the right move for Indiana despite the NCAA investigation into more than 550 impermissible phone calls that Sampson and his Oklahoma staff allegedly made to recruits during 2000-04.

"He called high school recruits, what twice a week? OK, so it was 500 calls," Risley said. "I told him he could start recruiting my son right now as long as he only called him once a
week. Look, we all make mistakes and do things, but I think he brings a lot of character to this program."

Not everyone agrees. After this week's announcement, 1981 team member Ted Kitchel told The Indianapolis Star that he wouldn't let Sampson coach a fifth-grade girls teams.

Buckner said that although he backed Sampson's hire, he also thought the school should have interviewed Randy Wittman and Mike Woodson, both NBA assistants who played at Indiana.

Buckner also said he was one of the former players consulted by athletic director Rick Greenspan during the five-week search but declined to comment on the discussions.

Either way, it appears Buckner -- and others -- are ready to embrace Sampson as the coach and again support the program.

"He understands what's at stake, and he understands how important is to pull it all together," Buckner said. "I think he's done a good job at Oklahoma, and I think, at this point, we need to respect and support the coach of Indiana University."
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