They say bad news travels fast. Just ask George Leach.
The 211-cm starting center for the Takamatsu Five Arrows got the word late last week that the storied collegiate program where he played — Indiana University — had been rocked by a recruiting scandal that resulted in the departure of head coach Kelvin Sampson.
During legendary coach Bobby Knight’s long tenure at the school, which included three NCAA titles, the program had never run afoul of the NCAA. Knight may have had his own personal behavior issues, but his reputation was one of playing by the rules when it came to recruiting.
When Knight was forced out back in 2000, following a run-in with a student, assistant coach Mike Davis stepped in but was unable to attain the kind of success his predecessor had.
Davis departed in 2005 and Indiana made the controversial decision to hire Sampson from Oklahoma, where he was already in hot water with the NCAA for recruiting violations.
Some questioned the move at the time, but Indiana hired Sampson, who had coached the Sooners to the eight 20-win seasons and the Final Four in 2002.
Leach, who played for Davis from 2000-04, said the move to get rid of Sampson came at a less-than-ideal time.
“It is bad timing because they are in the middle of the Big 10 season,” said Leach, after the Five Arrows’ 99-95 overtime win over the Tokyo Apache at Ariake Colosseum on Sunday.
“There were some bad decisions made, but stuff like that happens. I’m for the program and I only want the best for it.”
Leach, who had 11 points and 11 rebounds in the victory, said he didn’t think it was a mistake for the school to hire Sampson.
“Regardless of what kind of trouble he was in before, he is a proven good coach. His record overshadowed all of the other stuff he did. He’s a great coach.”
Leach believes the current crop of players, some of whom boycotted the first practice after Sampson was ousted, will bounce back from the adversity.
“They will always be on top or fight to get on top,” he said.
Leach, who was recruited by Knight, saw the awesome task that Davis was faced with after his boss was fired.
“It is really hard to come out and coach behind Bobby Knight,” Leach noted. “He was an assistant and he stepped into a big-time program for his first time being a head coach.”
Despite there having been some reservations from the Indiana faithful about promoting Davis, Leach felt like the coach was given a fair shake during his time on the bench.
“The school was behind him. He had his shot. He was there for four or five years. The school eventually decided to go in a different direction.”
When asked what his advice would be to the current crop of Hoosiers, Leach pondered the question for a moment before replying.
“Always be professional,” he said. “Things are going to happen in life unexpectedly. But always stay together as one. Always remember you are representing Indiana University.”