Eye of the storm
IU signee Ebanks in middle of Sampson allegations
Posted: Thursday February 14, 2008 12:03PM; Updated: Friday February 15, 2008 12:10PM
LONG ISLAND CITY, N.Y. -- Last July, Yvonne Jackson, the mother of Devin Ebanks, a swingman who had recently committed to Indiana, was on a cruise in the Caribbean when she received a call from a member of Indiana University's compliance office. "It caught me off guard," says Jackson, who was named in the NCAA's 14-page list of allegations regarding impermissible phone calls by Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson. "They wanted to verify my cell number and Devin's. They were asking me about dates and calls that had been made. I answered to the best of my memory."
The calls in question relate back to Ebanks' recruitment, which, for the most part, took place during the year-long period when Sampson was prohibited from calling recruits or making off-campus visits. In 2006, the NCAA handed down sanctions against Sampson because of the 577 impermissible calls he and his staff made while at Oklahoma before arriving in Indiana. "He made a mistake," Ebanks said of Sampson when he offered his verbal commitment last June. "I've made bad mistakes myself. You still have to give someone a chance."
Former Indiana assistant Rob Senderoff, a New York native who developed a close relationship with Ebanks and his mother, spearheaded Ebanks' recruitment. Because Sampson could not call recruits directly, Senderoff would tell Ebanks to call the coach. "It was a little awkward at first to know coach could not call you," said Ebanks, now a 6-foot-8, 205-pound senior at Saint Thomas More in Oakdale, Conn. "I knew most assistants are who you deal with at that point though."
When Ebanks finally met Sampson face-to-face at an AAU tournament on Indiana's campus last May, he was taken with the coach's ability to relate. "He's just so open and gets along well with teens," Ebanks said. "I walked away feeling comfortable."
Within a month, Ebanks gave his verbal commitment to Indiana over Miami, Rutgers and Texas. To grow more accustomed with the school, Ebanks spent the last week of August as a pseudo-student on campus, sitting in on the first week of classes and lifting in the weight room. He felt at home then, but a few months later he received some disturbing news.
On Oct. 14, with between 10-11 recruits on campus, Senderoff pulled Ebanks' mother aside and spoke at length about how the internal investigation had found the coaching staff to have committed "minor" infractions. Sampson told Ebanks while at his house near campus for dinner, "If they had doubts or concerns about Indiana University I would have had no problem understanding," Senderoff told SI.com by phone on Wednesday. "I just wanted them to hear from us first."
Later that month, Senderoff was the fall guy and was forced to resign, but Ebanks still signed a Letter of Intent with Indiana in early November. "I made sure he knew not to factor me into the situation," said Senderoff, who now works part-time for the Hoop Group in Neptune, N.J. while seeking a college coaching position. "I'm just upset I won't be a part of his college development."