From the start of his recruitment through the end of his lone season in Bloomington, everything about Eric Gordon’s college experience was drama-filled.
Gordon had almost every top program in the country after him by the time he was a freshman in high school. But little did most of them know, he wasn’t going to venture far from his Indianapolis home.
“I knew I wasn’t going to go far. I almost knew that I wasn’t going to go beyond 100 miles from home,” Gordon told A.J. Guyton on the House of Hoosier podcast earlier this week.
Gordon quickly distilled down his options. The closest high major program at the time to his northside Indianapolis home was never a serious option.
“No. I would definitely not go to Purdue,” Gordon told Guyton.
Gordon also didn’t view Indiana as a good fit under head coach at the time Mike Davis, so that left Illinois within his preferred radius closer to home. Ranked No. 1 in the class of 2007 by Rivals.com, Gordon verbally committed to the Illini in November of 2005, just as he began his junior season at North Central High School.
But a change in Bloomington prompted a change in Gordon’s college plans.
“Along the way they had a coaching change at Indiana with Kelvin Sampson there, and I thought I should go even closer to home, because my dream was always to go to IU,” Gordon said.
Indiana’s involvement in Gordon’s recruitment after he had verbally committed to Illinois infuriated Illini head coach Bruce Weber, and that rage trickled down to the fan base, setting the stage for a memorable IU trip to Champaign on Feb. 7, 2008. With the hostile crowd directing its collective venom at Gordon, the No. 13 Hoosiers escaped with a 83-79 double overtime win.
“That game was very meaningful,” Gordon recalled with Guyton. “Illinois was a school that I did not ever want to lose to when I was at IU. That was one school that I had to make sure I never lost to.
“I knew it was going to be a crazy atmosphere, but as long as we came off with a win, that’s what really mattered, and how they acted, they acted nuts and crazy and I’m glad we overcame that.”
But the season took a dramatic turn just a couple weeks later.
On Feb. 22 Indiana forced Sampson out after he was accused by the N.C.A.A. of recruiting violations. Gordon would also later tell the Indianapolis Star that drug abuse became a major problem with certain members of the team.
After a 25-4 start to a season that saw the Hoosiers ranked as high as No. 12 as late as March 2, everything imploded. Indiana lost four of its last five games, including first round exits in both the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments.
Gordon said he remains close to Sampson and wishes the end of the season was handled differently. Both are presently in Houston, Gordon with the Rockets and Sampson the head coach at the University of Houston.
“That was the most disappointing part,” Gordon said. “I came there to play for him and they let him go at the highest point, when our team was really clicking on all cylinders.
“Still to this day I still don’t understand. They say he had phone calls, but who really knows. It just came out of nowhere, and everybody on our team was confused. Looking back on it, it was just an unfortunate situation for all of us players. … What I wish happened was they let the season ride along and see how far we can go, and then after the season if you guys want to let him go, let him go then.”
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