By MICHAEL MAROT
AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS -- Dan Dakich passed his first test as Indiana's new coach Saturday night.
On Tuesday, the former Hoosiers player and Bob Knight assistant will fulfill his lifelong dream -- being introduced to the home fans as the Hoosiers' new coach. To Dakich, who laments the circumstances surrounding Kelvin Sampson's resignation last week, it will be a bittersweet moment.
"I'm obviously thrilled to be sitting here, I'm not thrilled at the circumstances and I hope that's obvious, too," Dakich said Monday night on his first weekly radio show. "But I do want to thank a ton of people who sent me e-mails, text messages, letters and phone calls. The messages they left were unbelievable to me and my family. It tells me the magnitude of Indiana basketball, regardless of how things go, and it's just been an incredible thing for me personally."
For Dakich and the 12th-ranked Hoosiers (23-4, 12-2 Big Ten) it's been a tumultuous couple of weeks.
Since the university released an NCAA report accusing Sampson of five major rules violations Feb. 13, basketball has taken a rare backseat to rumors, speculation, criticism and consternation.
Many fans questioned whether Sampson should have even been hired at a school that prides itself on not having committed a major NCAA violation since 1960. Some critics responded by booing Sampson during pregame introductions of the Hoosiers' last three home games even though the Hoosiers continued to chase their first outright Big Ten title since 1993.
Sampson's resignation Friday and Dakich's subsequent promotion were followed by a threatened players' boycott that never materialized Saturday at Northwestern. The result: An 85-82 victory that was more impressive in demonstrating the Hoosiers' resilience than their play.
Still uncertain is how fans might react to the players, six of whom skipped Dakich's first practice Friday. Dakich has repeatedly downplayed the supposed rift, reflecting on the hypothetical situation of how he would have acted in a similar predicament during his playing days.
"You don't miss practice, ever. But this isn't ever. This is extraordinary circumstances," he said. "I go back to when I played and if coach Knight had been let go after 25 games or something, there probably would have been mayhem for me."
Some players were apologetic for what transpired.
"It was an emotional time for us," guard Armon Bassett said. "We were not going to sit out the game, we just had some things going on and we're sorry about that."
Now that it's back to basketball, the Hoosiers should be motivated by all the usual things.
A victory over the Buckeyes (17-10, 8-6) would keep Indiana even in the loss column with Wisconsin and Purdue at the top of the Big Ten. D.J. White is still trying to secure conference player of the year honors, and Eric Gordon still has a chance to set the Big Ten's freshman scoring record.
And while the rivalry between Ohio State and Indiana may not have either the stakes or the passion from the Jimmy Jackson-Damon Bailey days, the Hoosiers have plenty to prove to the people who think a coaching change has ruined their season.
"It's been tough, but the decision has been made," Gordon said Saturday. "We've just got to keep playing and finish out the season."
The game could also provide an awkward situation for both coaches.
Some Indiana fans want Ohio State coach Thad Matta, who previously coached at Butler, to become the long-term successor to Sampson. His contract includes a $500,000 buyout, but there is no indication he's interested. In fact, Matta has a long-term deal with the Buckeyes, and Dakich, with his link to the Knight days, could be the solidifying force Indiana has been looking for since Knight's firing in September 2000.
Plus, players may want to send a message to Sampson.
While Sampson has sent encouraging text messages to players, his separation agreement, released Monday by school officials, includes a provision that bars him from interfering with the team. Players wore his initials "KS" on their shoes Saturday night and there's no word whether they'll do it again when the Buckeyes visit.
But it's been a tough two weeks for everyone, including Dakich, who knows he'll only be embraced as long as he wins.
"You're dealing with 18- to 22-year-old kids who are playing for a coach who brought you to a point where you're 22-4 and that's tough," he said. "I'm 45 years old and I've been through a few things, and it's hard for me."