With Coach Sampson, you always have to reach his standard, so you must play hard and always compete. If you don’t pick up anything else from this program, you’ll pick up hard work. Once you accept being part of this program, it’s all you know. You’ve got to play hard.
Everything in this program is a competition. That’s why I like Coach Sampson. He’s trying to prepare you for life after college because it’s a competition everywhere you go.
Rebounding separates teams. Naturally, I feel like I’m a gifted rebounder. Rebounding is a competition, and you’ve got to have someone on your team to do that dirty work. When you keep getting offensive rebounds, it kills the opponent’s morale. You can miss a shot, get the rebound, and the clock resets to 20. Dribble, then you shoot, maybe you miss, but then you get the rebound, and the clock resets. That kills them. No one wants to play defense for a full minute, but they have to because we’re going to fight harder than they will for our offensive boards.
Everyone has a role on the team. My teammates have their roles; to score, shoot threes, facilitate, and do all that. I want to be the best in my role. I’m just trying to stay consistent in what I do. I’m honored to accept the identity guy title and bring all my brothers with me. Because I know all championship teams need an identity guy.
The average fan might not know the value that an identity guy brings. Everyone gets excited when I get two or three rebounds in a row. Once you accept that role and do it consistently, being an identity guy brings flames to the team. It hypes everybody up. If I get a rebound, I kick it out, and we make a three; the crowd goes crazy, and it gets everyone in the mix. I accept my role, but I have to do it every night.
What the others don’t get is that there’s a code. You have to stick to the code, and you can’t go off-script. If I switch up or don’t go hard, I could be the reason we lose.
The year I redshirted, I was doing a lot of research on the bench. I was evaluating my teammates and seeing what they bring to the team that can change games. For example, Chris Harris was a dominant shot blocker that changed games because many players wouldn’t drive on him. I once saw Justin Gorham get 19 rebounds in a road game. Those are identity guys.
When you accept the role of identity guy, it gets everybody else going.
Everyone wants to win, but very few realize what you must go through to do it. The last game I saw UH play before coming here was Kentucky in the Sweet 16. As a high school kid, I thought players dove on the ball out of instinct. I didn’t know it was coached that way, but once I arrived on campus, I saw you had to learn to play that way. It doesn’t come naturally.
But that’s all part of the plan: all the summer workouts, all the 6:30 sessions, all of that plays a role in getting to March. To win, there are sacrifices you have to make. Even tough guys have to get tougher. Some people don’t like taking charges because you might get dunked on, or they don’t want to get hurt. But if you’re going to win, you’ve got to do certain stuff other teams won’t do. Coach Samps builds you up to be tough.
As an example, take a loose ball in practice. If you bend over and pick the ball up while somebody else is diving for it, you’re going to run. That’s just the way this program is built.
The secret is being willing to put in the reps. Even on a day when I’m not my best, I still have to keep making my reps. There’s no moving on; there’s no coming back to it. For example, you must make six of eight to complete a three-point drill. We call it six-eight. If you’re in this spot and you’ve got to make 68, you have to make 68. They’re not letting you move on. You can’t just do it tomorrow.
If you have to make 42/50 free throws, and you make 41, you start over. But that’s what comes with greatness. You’ve got to put in the work.
Just like the coaches are not going easy on me, I’m not going easy on a teammate. If I don’t kill Jarace Walker in practice, if I don’t try to expose him in practice, it could happen during a game. If I don’t push Jarace to his best right now, I’m not helping my team win a championship.
I have a role. If I don’t do my role, someone at another school will do it, and they will win a title. People are trying to win a championship all over the country. They’re trying to get to where we want to be. I can’t let that person outwork me.
It’s on me to do the work. That’s my identity.