Eric Gordon might play just one season at Indiana. Its fans hope it is a memorable one not clouded by off-court issues.
One of the nation’s top freshmen makes his debut Monday night when the eighth-ranked Hoosiers open the season against Chattanooga at Assembly Hall.
Gordon, a 6-foot-4 guard from nearby Indianapolis, was the state’s Mr. Basketball. Barring injury, Gordon is likely to be a lottery pick next summer. A big guard, Gordon is a strong shooter who is quick enough to blow by smaller guards.
“When you have a person of his ability level and his attitude, that is when you start getting into the ‘special’ stratosphere,” Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson said. “The sky is the limit for that young man because of his attitude, his humbleness.”
Sampson, who guided the Hoosiers to a 21-11 record, third-place finish in the Big Ten and a second-round appearance in the NCAA tournament in his first season at Indiana, hopes there is no limit to heights his team will go in 2007-08.
Indiana was co-conference champions in 2001-02, the same season it last reached the Final Four, losing to Maryland in the national championship game.
However, with Gordon, last season’s top scorer D.J. White and some other talented newcomers, the Hoosiers are filled with high expectations.
Those expectations, though, could be overshadowed after a series of impermissible phone calls by Sampson and his coaching staff violated NCAA sanctions imposed on Sampson in May 2006 from his tenure at Oklahoma.
Assistant coach Rob Senderoff resigned from the Hoosiers staff, and the NCAA has yet to make a ruling on the current violation.
“I can assure you there’s no distractions,” Sampson said. “We probably practice a little harder than we did last year, and there’s been no mention of it since the first day.”
Sampson’s player don’t appear to be bothered, either.
“It’s part of it here,” said White, who averaged 13.8 points and 7.3 rebounds last season as a junior. “Things happen, and you have to take it as it goes. We’ll just keep playing.”
Gordon and White will be supported by sophomore guard Armon Bassett, who averaged 9.5 points and 3.0 assists as a freshman. Junior college transfers Jamarcus Ellis and DeAndre Thomas were high school teammates in Chicago and are expected to contribute right away.
At 6-8, 295 pounds, Thomas should give the Hoosiers a true inside presence they have been lacking, while 6-9 freshman Eli Holman should also see significant time.
Senior guard A.J. Ratliff, who averaged 9.3 points, was declared academically ineligible for the first semester, but 6-4 freshman Jordan Crawford could see increased minutes in his absence.
Indiana, which will meet Chattanooga for the first time, looks to win its 10th straight opener and 23rd consecutive home opener. The Hoosiers are also trying for their 18th straight home victory since a 70-67 loss to then-No. 18 Iowa on Feb. 11, 2006.
Chattanooga opened the season with a 120-59 win over Covenant on Friday. Junior Stephen McDowell, a 5-11 transfer from South Carolina who is from Indianapolis, had 25 points on 9-for-15 shooting for the Mocs.
After finishing 15-18 last season, Chattanooga was picked to finish fourth in the Southern Conference.
“We know we have some talent on this team,” coach John Shulman said. “We have to find the right combinations and who plays well with whom in order for us to play as well as we expect to play.”
The Mocs will try to avoid their 11th straight loss to a ranked team since a 75-63 second-round NCAA tournament victory over then-No. 19 Illinois on March 16, 1997.
Chattanooga is 0-18 against Top 25 opponents on the road.