University affirms its faith in Senderoff


Photo by Brian Smith.

Matt North


Four years ago, the NCAA implicated Rob Senderoff, an assistant basketball coach at Indiana under Kelvin Sampson, in a notice of allegations for making over 100 impermissible phone calls to recruits for the Hoosiers.

Now, Senderoff, who was hired to join the Kent State coaching staff after resigning from IU in 2008 and became the head coach in 2011, is having his story brought back to light in a book set to be released on Oct. 1.

The book, titled “Rising From the Ashes: The Return of Indiana Basketball,” is the story of IU basketball and its rise to recent prominence under current head coach Tom Crean. The story is told by Terry Hutchens, a sportswriter for the Indianapolis Star who has covered IU basketball and football for 14 seasons.

“The point of the book is to celebrate the return of Indiana basketball,” Hutchens said, “but to do that, you gotta look back to why the program was brought to its knees in the first place.”

According to Hutchens, most of the book covers the Tom Crean-era, specifically leading up to last season’s successes. But he says a chapter to a chapter-and-a-half covers the recruiting scandal that he says led Indiana basketball to rock bottom.

For those unfamiliar with the scandal, the NCAA notice of allegations found Sampson, Senderoff and the rest of the IU coaching staff to have made over 100 impermissible phone calls to recruits between 2006-2007.

These impermissible calls included illegal three way calls and calls placed outside specific date parameters set by the NCAA.

There is nothing necessarily new in the book, Hutchens said, because the NCAA report has been public record since 2008. What the book does offer, however, is a bit more detail on the specific recruits contacted by the IU staff.

“In the book, I came up with a non-redacted notice with all the names in it which made it real specific who they were contacting,” Hutchens said.

Many of the names are prominent and familiar to anyone who followed the 2008 college basketball season; Evan Turner, DeJuan Blair, Demetri McCamey, Devin Ebanks, and Robbie Hummel, just to name a few.

A specific excerpt at the end of chapter five from the book reveals the gravity of the scandal: “Despite being restricted from making any recruiting phone calls, Sampson participated in approximately 10-18 three way calls with recruits that violated the terms of the sanctions against him. Senderoff also made 35 impermissible calls from his phone and subsequently resigned from his position.”

When Senderoff voluntarily resigned, some, including Hutchens, were surprised by his implications in the scandal, and many more thought he would never coach again.

“I had a really good relationship with Senderoff when I was at IU,” Hutchens said. “He always treated me really well, and it was kind of a shock when that NCAA letter showed how deeply he was involved.”

After Senderoff’s resignation from Indiana, then-athletic director Laing Kennedy, head coach Geno Ford and Kent State gave him a job as an assistant coach almost right away. Senderoff served as an assistant coach with the Golden Flashes from 2002-2006 before joining Sampson at Indiana from 2006-2008.

“Coming back to Kent, Lester Lefton, Kennedy, [current athletic director] Joel Nielsen and Geno Ford; those four people had everything to do with me being where I am right now,” Senderoff said. “I try to work everyday to prove that their belief in me was correct.”

In 2011, the athletic department affirmed its faith when Senderoff replaced Ford as the head coach of the Golden Flashes.

The move had many critics who believed Senderoff’s record was tarnished, but Nielsen backed up the hire in an April 21, 2011 interview with ESPN.

“If I were hiring him from somewhere else, maybe it would have been difficult, but because I’ve gotten to know Rob and know who he is, this wasn’t hard. I didn’t feel like I was sticking my neck out at all,” said Nielsen back in 2011.

Hutchens supports the hire on the basis that he believes Sampson to be the true culprit in the scandal, but he said he is surprised it all happened so quickly.

“The person that deserved the most punishment was Sampson,” Hutchens said. “It wasn’t like he was a first time offender — a lot of this happened at Oklahoma and he made it clear it wouldn’t happen here, and a lot of people bought and signed on to that.

“I always thought [Senderoff] to be more of a straight shooter,” he said. “With him being a young guy, I thought at some point he would be able to bounce back. I guess I’m just surprised how fast things happened.”

To make this college basketball saga a little more interesting, effective June 15 of this year, the NCAA recently changed its recruiting rules — changes that would have made all of Senderoff’s actions legal.

“The rules that were broken back then are no longer rules,” Senderoff said. “The NCAA decided that the violations, which were phone call related only, were not important enough to want to continue to regulate.”

In an official statement in June, Mike Alden, Missouri athletic director and chairman of the Division I Leadership Council responsible for making the changes, said that the council recognized the evolving nature of communication and understood the importance for coaches to develop a solid relationship with prospective student-athletes.

Senderoff said that doesn’t give him any sense of indication because his actions were wrong back then.

“It was wrong and I’m not excusing what I did,” Senderoff said, “but the NCAA looked at what is really important in terms of cleaning up our game. The phone calls are not it. It’s not why kids are going to these schools.”

Senderoff suggested that academic fraud, agents and runners, and kids getting paid by boosters or through loans are all issues still facing recruiting in college basketball.

“The NCAA has bigger fish to fry,” Senderoff said.

At Indiana, four years later with its house cleaned and the sanctions finally lifted in Bloomington, Hutchens said he is optimistic for the Hoosiers’ future, which is the overall message his book is trying to send.

“The scandal was a dark chapter in IU basketball history, but again, it shows how quickly things can change and a program can bounce back with the right guy doing the right things,” Hutchens said.

Senderoff said he probably wouldn’t read the book because he is focused on what he is doing here at Kent State.

“It’s just something that’s in my past and not something I’m focused on, if that makes sense,” Senderoff said. “I don’t have a ton of interest in it other than I wish Tom Crean and the people [at Indiana] tremendous success.”

Contact Matt North at [email protected].