Y'all come back, Sampson and OU, ya hear?
By DAVE SITTLER World Sports Writer
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Perhaps we can chalk it up to old age. After all, Kelvin Sampson, who turned 50 last month, acknowledged he's mellowed some in recent years.
When his memory failed him on a question during a telephone interview Tuesday, Sampson jokingly said: "Maybe it's the 50 thing."
Whatever the reason, Sampson should be applauded for agreeing to bring his Oklahoma basketball team on Wednesday to our town to play Tulsa at the Reynolds Center.
What that means, sports fans, is what we'll have tonight right here in Arkansas River City is a happening. A sold-out, big-time atmosphere is guaranteed whenever an OU or Oklahoma State basketball or football team comes to T-Town to play one of the local schools.
Too bad these happenings don't happen more often.
It's been 20 years since an OU men's team played hoops at TU. That included the last 12 seasons when Sampson was coaching the Sooners.
But Sampson predicted it won't be in the year 2025 before the Sooners come back again. At least not as long as he's still OU's coach.
"I don't think it's something that can happen every year," Sampson said. "But I think it's something that could happen every other year."
Hey, coach, that works for us. A home-and-home series is all anyone can ask for.
Happily, Sampson has become part of a trend at OU. The Sooner football team visited Skelly Stadium in 2002 and has tentatively agreed to make a return trip in 2007.
"I know it's a good game for Tulsa," Sampson said. "But it's a good game for us, too."
It's good for anyone who enjoys entertaining and exciting in-state athletic competition. In other words, it's getting what you pay hard-earned money for instead of another ho-hum matchup against East Handkerchief State (Bob Stoops' favorite imaginary team) or some other obscure opponent.
We can only hope OSU officials will follow OU's lead and reconsider its reluctance to play Tulsa-based teams in Tulsa. The Cowboys, of course, never want to be accused of following a trend set by the hated Sooners. But instead of being like the Sooners, how about doing something the fans would like?
OSU's football team hasn't played at Skelly Stadium since 2000. And the Reynolds Center didn't exist when the Cowboys' basketball team last played TU at the Convention Center in 1996.
OSU and OU could make basketball visits to Tulsa every year if they had home-and-home series with TU and ORU. And we're tired of hearing that Eddie Sutton doesn't want to play his son, ORU basketball coach Scott Sutton. Because that probably means when Sean Sutton replaces his father at OSU, he won't want to play his brother.
Come on, get over it. After all, Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden plays his son, Clemson coach Tommy Bowden. They might not like it, but the fans love it.
So instead of making it a family issue, how about doing what the vast majority of fans want -- local teams playing each other. And if a relative happens to be involved, that just adds to the excitement.
The truth is this: Coaches at OU and OSU consider games with TU and ORU as no-win situations. They get no credit if they do the expected and win, and they catch all kinds of grief if they lose.
But isn't that what coaches with mega-contracts these days are paid to do? If you want the big bucks, you earn them by handling the pressure and giving those people who are buying the tickets what they want.
To Sampson's credit, he didn't agree to Wednesday's game because the TU program is in the midst of a massive rebuilding project under new coach Doug Wojcik after going a combined 18-40 the previous two seasons.
The three-game series, with games also in Norman and Oklahoma City, was signed after TU had gone 27-7 in 2001-02 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the seventh time in nine seasons.
"When you look at the tradition of the four (Division I) programs in the state, I don't know if any of us has been traditionally as good as Tulsa over an extended period of time," Sampson said. "And Tulsa's had seven coaches (including interim coach Pooh Williamson) since I've been (at OU).
"Now I've either been here way too long, or Tulsa's had an unbelievable program. I'd like to think it's the second one that's true."
TU's program has been great. But it's also been way too long since OU's paid the Hurricane a visit.
So welcome to town, Sooners. And please don't be strangers when you leave. Let's make this happening happen again real soon.
Dave Sittler 581-8312