So the bracket is out, and Houston is a one-seed, as well as the betting favorite, and you, savvy Internet genius, expert gambler, and t-shirt fan, have decided that you’re all-in. You’ve chosen to be a Cougar fan, huh? Fantastic!
But who is this team you’re so passionate about? Of course, you are not as passionate about UH as you are about the Lakers, Yankees, Cowboys, UT, and Duke Basketball. But still, very, very passionate. Lucky for you, you found us! We’ve been working the beat daily and are willing to help.
Because we, too, are very, very passionate.
Here’s your introductory class:
Gotta start with Kelvin Sampson, right, fanboy? He’s the guy that built Wazzu and then OU and then left Indiana under an NCAA cloud for something silly then and especially silly now, considering it’s not even a rules violation anymore. Samp rehabbed himself in the NBA and learned a lot about next-level coaching, and then selected Houston as the program he wanted to build. From 300 fans in the arena when he took over to every game a sellout this season, Sampson’s vision took Houston from hobo-infested Hofheinz into the #1 team in every single metric on the planet.
He’s won six of the last nine AAC championships (regular season and tournament), is undefeated on the road this season, and regularly dispatches lesser teams like you might toss, oh, I don’t know…an ugly Penny. He’s grumpy at times, always passionate, a great quote and teller of stories, and a guy that believes in toughness and grit so much, he would rather grab two offensive rebounds and hit the third shot than make every basket.
His son Kellen is the wunderkind assistant coach, evaluating and recruiting the freshmen talent that turnstile through the program as talented but raw 18-year-olds then develop into brutal, ready-to-break-your-spirit ruffians. The players he recruits would rather steal your soul than your lunch money and have done so in 230 of the Sampson Regime’s 303 games at Houston, including 31 this season.
That’s the most wins in the country, Super Fan. You better write that down.
His other two assistants are Quannas White and Hollis Price, known as HP and Coach Q. These guys learned to hoop on the unlighted playgrounds of New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, played together for Louisiana legend Bernie Griffith in high school, and then for Kelvin on a Final Four team at Oklahoma. Now, they regularly trash-talk the very players they’re paid to build up.
In the Guy V. Lewis Development Facility – which houses the team’s practice gym, locker room, players’ lounge, dining hall, film room, and coaches’ offices – the word culture is used as a substitute for, well, everything. Anything done right can be linked back to the culture, and anything wrong is eradicated; its memory turned into a culture-teaching moment. Culture is an all-meaning yet vague concept so ingrained but impossible to define succinctly.
No one is immune from the wrath of Kelvin if you deviate from the culture, as one former coach with a bad scouting report can verify. Alvin Brooks gave a poor summary of a player’s abilities, was called out in front of the team the day after the game, and made to run shuttles for his shortcoming. Nobody is above the culture.
In a building devoid of inspirational messages, the practice facility has one the players see every time they go in to watch film.
The embodiment of that culture is Jamal Shead, the team’s point guard and pulsing heart. A suburban Austin kid that once cried because he didn’t get the #23 in an AAU game is now a full-grown man that says if there’s pink in his steak, then “it’s not dead enough.” All Kelvin Sampson point guards are selected, not necessarily recruited, and Shead was the guy Sampson picked. A headband-wearing high school player at Manor (may-NER, not manər), he was the 36th-rated PG in his class, a laughable ranking that proves the uselessness of Internet recruiting services. If he had a profile on a dating app, under interests, it would list dropping dimes and ruining your life, 40 minutes at a time.
The only thing that the 36th-rated PG of 2020 has done with his career is shut down opponents’ top scorers for two seasons, made uberdork Seth Davis’ all-glue team, and been called the MVP of the team by his head coach, who added, “I don’t think I’ve had a more natural leader.” On a team full of fun personalities, his might be the best.
Even if he orders his steak wrong.
As Houston’s #1 fan, obviously, you know Marcus Sasser. The silent assassin was discovered when Sampson was evaluating a summer league teammate. He’s the best player, no doubt, and makes the team hum. He and Shead are connected at the hip on the floor, the two faces of this once-great program’s rise back to #1 and a top seed. He’s decadent – eating lobster mac and cheese with his salmon in ritzy steakhouses – and he competes in everything – notably, once getting beaten by teammates in a video game, then secretly playing it for hours so he could come back and beat them the next day – and has a marketing pitchman’s winning smile – charming but really just a thin veil covering his need to eat you alive.
Well, expert, that’s part one. Part two will take you through the rest of the rotation and how Houston rose from the ashes to rebuild into a monster. Don’t forget to subscribe, super-fan.
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