Observations from UH’s 1st basketball practice

Signs hanging above the door of the Guy V. Lewis Development facing Cullen

Above the door of the Guy V. Lewis Development facing Cullen

Friday was the first day of practice for UH Men’s Basketball. UH invited the media to watch the first 30 minutes of practice but few took advantage: 3 television cameras (one was a local ABC reporter shooting his own stuff) and me (Joseph Duarte from The Houston Chronicle was in Tulsa for football). I spent a lot of time watching (bad) practices under Alvin Brooks and Clyde Drexler, and some under Ray McCallum and Tom Penders, but this was my first time to see Kelvin Sampson and his staff in practice.

Here are a few observations of what I saw. This stuff could happen every day in practice but I found it interesting from my 30,000-foot, short-term view.

After conditioning drills, Kelvin Sampson spent the first 15 minutes coaching, running ‘culture’ drills, and being on top of everything that was happening. Then the squad split to opposite sides of the floor with Kellen Sampson running drills for 4s and 5s and Quannas White with the guards.

At that point, Kelvin walked out and, I’m told, went to greet two recruits that were in town for the start of practice. It was explained to me that he started to dissect the drills and even went so far as to whiteboard what the recruits had seen on the floor. He’s a non-stop clinic.

Per NCAA rules, media members cannot have any direct or indirect contact with a recruit while he’s on-campus, which I fully respect. I did not meet or see the recruits. But as an outsider, it is fascinating to see Kelvin’s intensity in games and in practice and then hear about it in his recruiting. Those recruits probably expected to sit off to the side, unnoticed, but instead got a full-on seminar. To their credit, I’m told they were both dialed into his explanation.


Quannas White was working at the far side of the gym which meant Kellen Sampson was down where I was. I got to observe Kellen Sampson working with the bigs, which is specifically what I wanted to see. He was hands-on, running drills to deny the post, and using breaks in between to teach as well as to demonstrate the proper technique. Like his dad, Kellen’s demands are high.

“I don’t want a deflection. I want a damn steal,” he said forcefully to freshmen Robbie Armbrester and Ja’vier Francis.

You think of Kelvin being detail-oriented and, obviously, the assistants he chooses would figure to be as well. But the granular-level teaching, in the first 30 minutes of the first practice of the year, was more than I expected to see in our short time in the gym. My impression is that the details are just as important to Kellen as they are to his dad.

Everything, at every point, in every moment, is a competition. Kelvin has preached that for years but his practice certainly lived up to it.

My lasting impression of my short practice look-in was the energy. Players, coaches, staffers, managers. Players that wanted to practice, wanted to be coached and had energy for their teammates. Coaches that wanted to teach, coach their kids, and keep building the culture. It was relentless. Sure, it’s easy to have energy in the first hour of the first day but it didn’t feel cheesy or done just for cameras. These guys love working for their coach and for their teammates.

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