Former Oklahoma and current Houston basketball coach Kelvin Sampson has emerged as a leading candidate for the vacant head coaching position with the NBA’s Orlando Magic.
Marc Stein of the New York Times reports that “there is growing belief” that Sampson has emerged as the Magic’s “prime candidate.”
No team has kept its coaching search quieter than Orlando, but there is a growing belief among league insiders gathered in Chicago this week that University of Houston coach Kelvin Sampson has emerged as the Magic's prime target
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) May 16, 2018
Sampson, 62, coached at Oklahoma from 1994-2006. He then coached at Indiana for two seasons before he resigned under pressure late in the 2008 season because of allegations of serious NCAA violations. As a result of those allegations, Sampson received a five-year show cause penalty to coach at other college jobs.
But after that, Sampson honed his reputation as a top NBA assistant. He spent three years on Scott Skiles’ staff at Milwaukee and then three seasons as lead assistant under Kevin McHale with the Houston Rockets. He also served as interim head coach after McHale was fired before he took the University of Houston job in 2014.
While with the Cougars, he has directed them to an 83-48 record in his four seasons there, including a trip to the NCAA Tournament last season.
His most sustained success came with the Sooners. He notched 279 career victories to rank second in school history behind Billy Tubbs. And his .719 winning percentage ranks as the highest for any coach in Oklahoma basketball history.
Sampson took the Sooners to 11 NCAA Tournament appearances in his 12 seasons there and never failed to take his team to postseason play. Oklahoma made a Final Four trip under Sampson in 2002 and the Elite Eight in 2003.
Houston Chronicle reporter Joseph Duarte reports that Sampson is familiar to key Orlando front office personnel. He worked with the Bucks while current Orlando president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman and general manager John Hammond both worked with the Bucks.
Kelvin Sampson would face big rebuilding job in Orlando
The Magic have the fifth pick in the upcoming NBA draft. One of the potential selections could be former Oklahoma guard Trae Young, who worked as a ballboy for Sampson’s Oklahoma teams when he was growing up in Norman.
The Magic haven’t made the NBA playoffs since 2012 and haven’t won a playoff series since advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals under Stan Van Gundy in 2010.
It’s clearly not one of the better situations in the NBA. But Sampson getting a chance to coach the Magic at the end of his heralded career would be an interesting story of redemption since leaving college basketball in disrepute less than 10 years ago.