For Kelvin Sampson, Eddie Sutton’s induction in the Hall of Fame is recognition of greatness
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced on April 4 the star-studded class of 2020 that includes nine members who will forever be recognized for their impact on the game, including retired head coach Eddie Sutton.
Head coach Kelvin Sampson crossed paths with Sutton multiple times back in their days leading rival Oklahoma programs.
“I think he’s one of the greatest coaches ever, and I mean that,” Sampson said in a phone interview. “I think one of Eddie’s greatest strengths was watching him adapt and adjust as the game evolved.”
He and Sutton had many battles between 1994 and 2006 when Sampson was the head coach at Oklahoma and Sutton was the leader at Oklahoma State.
When asked about a certain game that stood out to him, Sampson could not point out a specific contest.
“Each game was a different chapter,” said Sampson, who recalled the energy that’d radiate when the two, usually coaching top 25 teams, met. “The state stopped and watched when Oklahoma and Oklahoma State basketball played.”
What Sampson did emphasize was how much respect he has for Sutton.
Sutton impacted the Oklahoma State program beyond the basketball court and the way he handled the tragedy of “The Ten” sealed the admiration and respect Sampson has for him.
“The Ten” refers to 10 in the Cowboys’ basketball program who were killed in 2001 when a university plane crashed in Colorado.
“I’ll never forget Eddie’s leadership during that time,” Sampson said.
Following the accident, the state of Oklahoma collectively mourned.
“There was a pall over the state,” Sampson said. “It just broke your heart.”
The Cowboys, however, continued to battle with heavy hearts after the tragedy and played out the remainder of the season, even making it into the NCAA tournament.
“Eddie had to coach those kids,” Sampson said. “He was kind of the voice of reason for that program, and I’ll never forget how he handled that. I will always have tremendous respect.”
The years have not made the impact of the accident any less painful, and Sampson still remembers the lives lost in the plane.
“I still pray for the people that perished in that flight,” he said.
As Sutton officially joins the pantheon of basketball’s greats, his entire mark on the game will get a chance to be revisited again. Sampson simply described it as greatness.
Sutton won over 800 career games as an NCAA Division I head coach. He began his career at Creighton before coaching at Arkansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma State and a few games at San Francisco on an interim basis.
Every school where he was the full-time coach, Sutton took the program to the NCAA tournament.
“I think that’s the mark of greatness,” Sampson said. “No matter where he went his teams won and he won at a high level.”