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Benson, other fans hope Hoosiers can turn corner on sad saga

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

By MICHAEL MAROT

AP Sports Writer

BLOOMINGTON -- Fans stood, waved their arms, hooted and hollered as Dan Dakich walked into Assembly Hall for the first time as head coach of Indiana's basketball team Tuesday night.

No boos necessary.

For the nation's No. 12 basketball team, it was a stark contrast to the sad saga that had ensued over the past two weeks in Bloomington, the harsh aftermath of Kelvin Sampson being accused of five major NCAA rules infractions.

But Tuesday night was the start of a new era and proud moment for many of the university's fans and famous alumni, who showed their broad approval of the move to replace Sampson with Dakich with a loud ovation during pregame introductions.

At the front of the line was Kent Benson, a former overall No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, who attended his first game of the season.

"I turned my tickets back in, I guess it was October, when Sampson was cited for the violations and I told them I'd be back when they got rid of him," Benson said. "So here I are."

Benson praised the university's decision to buy out Sampson's contract for $750,000, and he was hardly alone.

As fans streamed in for the Ohio State game, many echoed Benson's sentiments -- that Sampson should never have been hired, that the university did the right thing last week and that it's time to start rebuilding the university's reputation for integrity.

Indiana hasn't been found guilty of a major NCAA rules infraction since 1960, although Sampson and Indiana must still go before the infractions committee in June.

The university released the NCAA report on Feb. 13, which set off a circus environment in which Sampson's mess became the central attraction at games.

To some, it was a disappointing turn of events.

"I feel bad for the players, but it was probably the right thing to do," said Ciara McNally, a freshman at Indiana. "It just seemed like we'd win all those games and it turned into Sampson stuff. It was kind of irritating because the boys did a good job, but it seemed like all the attention was on Sampson."

It wasn't an issue Tuesday. Fans gave Dakich, the 45-year-old former Indiana player and longtime Bob Knight assistant, a warm welcome.

Not everyone was so supportive, though.

"I don't think he (Dakich) is the right guy at the right time," said Randall Kron, a 42-year-old Indiana fan from Cincinnati. "But I would hope he gets a better reaction than Sampson."

Benson planned to do just that, describing Dakich as a class act and one of Indiana's great basketball players.

Yet it will likely take more than the support of former Hoosiers players and fans for Dakich to keep the job.

He takes over a team ranked No. 12, which entered Tuesday night with a 23-4 mark and in serious contention for the Big Ten title. Dakich won his debut game as coach, after serving 410 games as an Indiana assistant, on Saturday at Northwestern.

But it was the reaction of Indiana's players -- six of whom skipped Dakich's first practice Friday and threatened to boycott the Northwestern game -- that was Benson's greatest concern.

"The bottom line is that it comes down to the players and they have to look at what's at stake, what they can accomplish," Benson said. "They can be Big Ten champions, they have a high ranking, they can continue to play deep into the NCAA tournament, but it's all about their attitude. They have to look ahead and put the Sampson stuff behind."

And that's precisely what Benson wanted Indiana to do all along.

"They made the right decision getting rid of Sampson," he said. "He should have never been here in the first place, and now we can move ahead with the integrity and character that Indiana basketball is all about."



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