By STEVE HERMAN
AP Sports Writer
BLOOMINGTON -- Senior D.J. White and a flock of talented newcomers headed by freshman guard Eric Gordon have landed Indiana the No. 9 ranking in The Associated Press preseason basketball poll Friday.
The Hoosiers were 21-11 last season but were not ranked among the nation's Top 25. This time, Indiana returns three starters plus one of the top recruiting classes in the country, earning its first Top 10 preseason ranking since 1994.
"I like our team," said coach Kelvin Sampson, eager to begin the season and shift the focus away from a telephone recruiting scandal that led to the resignation of one assistant coach and cost Sampson a $500,000 pay raise. "As long as we keep getting better on defense, we're going to be good."
No other Indiana team was ranked among the preseason Top 25. Butler, which spent most of last season in the rankings, and Notre Dame were among the other teams receiving votes.
Indiana, which won all three games on a trip to the Bahamas over the Labor Day weekend, will play North Alabama on Sunday in the first of two exhibition games at Assembly Hall. The Hoosiers also will play North Carolina-Pembroke on Nov. 10 before starting the regular season two nights later against Chattanooga.
"We've had 19, 20 practices. We're getting to the point we need to play a game, especially our freshmen," said Sampson, starting his second season with the Hoosiers. "Those guys are doing the same things every day and they need to play a game to find out exactly how this stuff works."
Besides Gordon, the 2007 Indiana high school Mr. Basketball from Indianapolis North Central, the other freshmen are 6-9 Eli Holman, 6-7 Brandon McGee, 6-4 Jordan Crawford and 6-0 Brett Finkelmeier. The Hoosiers also have two highly touted junior college transfers in 6-5 Jamarcus Ellis, the 2007 junior college player of the year, and 6-8, 295-pound DeAndre Thomas.
"The guy that's really improved (in practice) is Eli Holman," Sampson said. "He's starting to do some things. He's so raw, he just isn't a finished product, but boy, he is going to be good."
Holman averaged 24.7 points, 12 rebounds and 10 blocks as a senior at Richmond, Calif.
The top freshman clearly is Gordon, who averaged 29 points as a high school senior and was the Hoosiers' top scorer in their trip to the Bahamas, averaging 27.7 points, 5 assists and 5 steals.
"It's not fair to call Eric a freshman, he's just a good player," Sampson said. "He gets lost a little bit away from the ball, but that will come with experience. His talent can get him out of a lot of problems."
White, a 6-9 senior who led the Hoosiers in scoring and rebounding last season, 6-8 Lance Stemler and 6-1 Armon Bassett are the returning starters. Senior guard A.J. Ratliff also started 12 games but is academically ineligible for the first semester.