Kellen Sampson: “We’re Starting To Realize The Power of Cougar Nation”

This is the second part of an interview with Kellen Sampson about how UH Basketball is dealing with name, image, and likeness (NIL). The first part of the interview is here.

GoCoogs: Are recruits’ parents asking about NIL?

Kellen Sampson: The families we want to be a part of are curious as to what it is, what opportunities, within reason, are out there for their son, and in what ways are we helping their family be a part of it.

Is it absolutely the single most important thing in their recruitment? Probably not. Especially if you have aspirations to be a professional basketball player, anything that is short-term isn’t going to be part of a long-term play. Is it a part of the collegiate experience across all sports? Absolutely.

GC: Who are the winners and losers in NIL so far?

KS: Programs across the landscape that are clinging to the old establishment are the ones that are getting left behind. But there’s no difference between that and, 20 years ago, the schools that were outfront and aggressive in the facilities arms race. They prospered the quickest and the most.

The schools that were archaic in their movement towards new facilities and upgrades and infrastructure and amenities, schools that were slowest to a full-fledged nutrition program, or sports science or mental health, if you’re slow to the cutting edge, you’re decreasing your opportunity to win. In this landscape, there needs to be an NIL plan. And it needs to be a plan everybody feels like they can execute.

There’s certainly not an athletics program that views championships as an expectation that does not have an NIL plan. Are there certain schools that have a more aggressive NIL plan than others? Absolutely. And I think you’re going to see a lot more athletics departments in the future have an aggressive plan.

GC: How far behind is UH in NIL?

KS: Quickly getting there. We were in a space as a university that we took, and it’s not a bad plan, a wait-and-see approach. Sometimes an aggressive step leaves you 10 steps in the wrong direction. You’re continually in a state of catchup. I think what our University as a whole has done, and our fan as a whole is let’s pick the right lane for us. And I think that we are a heck of a lot better off right now than we were six months ago, 12 months ago. And that’s a good thing.

We’re starting to realize the power of Cougar Nation. I think people are understanding the best way to tap into this opportunity and hopefully, people are seeing a tremendous return on what they’re providing. They are getting a chance to know more of our guys for who they are as people, which is a great thing. You don’t win championships and banners around here if all we have is good basketball players. We’ve got great people who happen to be really good basketball players. And the more opportunities that the person, not just the jersey number, gets in front of people, the better.

Photo by Mario Puente

I’ll say this: There’s unbelievable practicality with NIL. Not to get into too many specifics but, because of NIL, because of some opportunities, for the first time since we’ve been at UH, we don’t have a player who has a car that does not have a parking pass. In previous years, guys with a car couldn’t afford a parking pass. For them to park where their dorm is but then also to be able to park closer to our facility, it’s an $800-a-year pass.

Without outside revenue, our guys couldn’t afford it. That’s a big expense for mom and dad. That’s a practical use of NIL dollars and cents. And that’s a good thing. It’s not just going towards extravagance. It’s going to a necessary practicality.

Where our kids live, they have free laundry, but you do not have free detergent. Our kids are able to wash their clothes a bit more frequently because they have the money to buy laundry detergent. There’s an unbelievable amount of good and practical use that’s occurring with NIL dollars.

GC: I’ve talked to players that have not had the resources to get their families to a tournament game…

KS: Oh my gosh. Oh man.

GC: Have you experienced players in the past whose families could not see them play in a conference tournament or NCAA Tournament?

KS: Yeah.

People have this misperception sometimes about the NCAA Tournament, we have no idea where we’re going any quicker than the public. We all find out, it’s one of the magical things about Selection Sundays, we all find out at the same time. So, the same price that Cougar fans see on any of those travel websites for plane tickets on that short of notice? That’s what our kids’ parents see.

And then a hotel on an NCAA Tournament weekend, you know they’re going to price gouge it, so to see their young man play in the greatest spectacle in all of college sports, is of tremendous expense. And there’s not one thing the NCAA is allowing us to do as a University or a program to help these families with this expense. NIL is. Players can set aside some dollars to help their families see NCAA Tournament games.

How about some of these marquee non-conference games that are a special moment in these kids’ lives? Be pretty cool if mom and dad could take part in it. They saw every high school game, they saw every AAU game, but they get to college and they don’t have as equal of an opportunity to see Johnny and Susie.

How about trying to recruit a young man from outside of our geographical footprint? Families start trying to calculate the cost that it would be yearly just to come to see a home game. And how many recruits did we lose, that we were the right fit? We did the best job?

If I heard it once, I heard it a hundred times, “Coach if your university was just a little closer, it would be a slamdunk decision. No brainer decision.” If I heard it once, I heard it a thousand times. Via NIL, we can start to mitigate some of those reasons why a young man may not pick the best school for him.


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Jason Holmes
Jason Holmes
Ryan is the publisher of GoCoogs. He is also a real estate agent and entrepreneur.


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