Frequent readers have heard this yarn before: Coach lands dream job, coach breaks rules of probation at dream job, coach loses dream job, coach is hit with five-year show cause penalty by NCAA, coach's career is apparently over, coach moves to job as NBA assistant, coach emerges as an up-and-coming NBA coach.
That is the tale of Kelvin Sampson. It added its most recent chapter in late April, when Sampson was one of several candidates to interview for the vacant Houston Rockets job. As yours truly wrote then, the turnaround was remarkable: Whether he got the job or not, Sampson was in a position to land the sort of high-profile, obscenely paid, professional job so many of his college colleagues envy, and he was about to do it in the most circuitous, unexpected, nontraditional way possible.
Sampson didn't get the Rockets job. Boston Celtics legend Kevin McHale did. But here we go again: According to multiple reports, Sampson is one of the top contenders to take over for fired Detroit Pistons coach John Kuester. (Remember when half the Pistons' players mutinied against their coach? Yeah, that was Kuester.) Former Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Woodson is the other top candidate, reports say.
But even if Sampson experiences a similar outcome here, even if he misses out on this job, the bottom line is this: He's in. He's an NBA guy now. His agent is apparently capable of getting him head-coaching looks far and wide. (NBA Today's Ryen Russillo had a fantastic riff about this on Monday, by the way. Well worth the listen.) If he misses out, he'll be mentioned again, and maybe the breakthrough is only a matter of time.
If not, still, consider the arc of Sampson's career. He's gone from disgraced cheater and basketball pariah to one of the "hottest" names in NBA coaching circles. He's failed upward in legendary fashion. And, truth be told, he's blazed a trail for guys like Bruce Pearl. Hit with a show cause? Unhireable for any number of reasons? No big deal. The NBA doesn't care. It just wants competent coaching.
There might be some nefarious effects to worry about here. After all, the NCAA can't like the notion that proven cheaters don't necessarily have to fade into basketball oblivion. Being a grumpy-looking assistant on Scott Skiles's bench is one thing. Being a head coach is another.
But for now, this is merely worth marveling at. Kelvin Sampson, NBA coach. For fans of college hoops, that is a truly strange turn of events.