By CHRIS JENKINS
AP Sports Writer
MILWAUKEE -- Kelvin Sampson still gets a thrill from watching the NCAA tournament, even though he knows he'll probably never be part of it again.
Sampson beams when he talks about the success of Villanova guard Scottie Reynolds, a player he originally recruited to Oklahoma. He's happy to see his friends in coaching keep winning.
But given the fallout from Sampson's messy exit from Indiana University, he has accepted the idea that his exile from college basketball probably is permanent. So as he winds up his first year as an assistant to Milwaukee Bucks coach Scott Skiles, Sampson has a new goal in mind: To become a head coach in the NBA.
"You never say never," Sampson told The Associated Press, when asked about a potential return to college. "But I'm really excited about the NBA, and I'm excited about the possibility of becoming a head coach in the NBA one day, maybe. And if it works out, it works out. If it does, it does. If it doesn't, it doesn't. But just being here with the Bucks, being part of this rebuilding, is exciting for me."
Sampson joined Skiles' staff in May, less than three months after resigning as the Hoosiers coach and accepting a $750,000 buyout after an NCAA report charged him with five major NCAA rules violations.
Other coaches have rebounded from NCAA violations and resurfaced, although Sampson's future is complicated by strict NCAA penalties that essentially prevent him from coaching in college until 2013.
Sampson is appealing the NCAA's ruling, but is otherwise trying to move past his tumultuous departure from the Hoosiers.
"I don't talk about that," he said. "It's in the past."
But Sampson does admit to some lingering regrets about a decision he made earlier in his career, when he left Oklahoma for Indiana in 2006.
In the course of a discussion about Reynolds, who went to Villanova after Sampson left Oklahoma for Indiana, Sampson said he worried about abandoning recruits who signed with him to play for the Sooners.
"When I left Oklahoma, I felt really guilty," Sampson said. "It was really emotional leaving the kids that you signed. You know that they signed to go play for you. And then when I left, they left -- and nobody wins in that deal. Oklahoma, those kids, in hindsight, you wish they had stayed at Oklahoma. But they chose to go somewhere else, and I'm just so thankful and so grateful. And I prayed, I prayed, that those guys would have great careers. And they have."
None more than Reynolds, whose success in the tournament has reminded Sampson of what he's missing.
"I had a lot of mixed emotions watching the tournament," he said. "I was fortunate to be in it for 14 years. But it's always exciting. I saw a lot of great games. I still have a lot of good friends who are coaching and it's always good to pull for them."
But Sampson also is learning to love life in the pros. And the more he learns, the more he sees the NBA as his permanent home.
Coming into this season, Sampson expected to find players who fit the NBA stereotype: Highly paid divas who don't listen to coaches. But Sampson says his real-world experience with Bucks players such as Charlie Villanueva, Charlie Bell and Richard Jefferson has been the opposite.
"The thing that's surprised me is how receptive players have been to coaching," Sampson said. "You know, you hear about things, but from Charlie to Charlie to Richard, everybody -- everybody on this team is coachable, and I think that says a lot about the organization and the kind of guys they have in here."
Sampson also has learned from Skiles, particularly the nuances of identifying and taking advantage of mismatches.
"The one thing the NBA does a great job of is taking advantage of mismatches," Sampson said. "You know, Scott's really good at figuring out where our mismatch is, and we have set plays, a sequence of set plays that we can call to take advantage of a mismatch at any time. That's something that (if) I become a head coach, I can utilize that -- something I don't know that I've ever really done a good job of in the past. I've coached against guys in college who did a good job of that, but it's something I can be better at."
Sampson is under contract with the Bucks for next season and expects to be back. With injured stars Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut returning to the court, he thinks the Bucks can have success.
"I enjoy being in Milwaukee, I enjoy the NBA," Sampson said. "It's a little bit of a novelty for me, and it's nice to see another coach do it a different way. I've been a head coach for 25 years, and I really haven't seen how any other coach does it. I've done it my way for a long time, and I've learned a lot this year."