March moments don’t faze Houston’s freshmen

It did not take Terrance Arceneaux long to figure out that March Madness is nowhere close to the UIL state tournament.

“I made it to the state (championship) in high school,” the former Beaumont United star said recently. “College is something totally different.”

UH players like Arceneaux, Jarace Walker, and Emanuel Sharp have not even exited their teens, yet they contribute to a top-seeded team in one of the most intense three-week stretches in American sports. The giant stage, the swarming media, and the eyes of the nation have been surreal for Arceneaux.

“It’s been unreal getting all this media attention,” Arceneaux said. “People that I haven’t talked to in a long time have been calling.”

Just ask Jamal Shead how such a big moment can be overwhelming. Shead’s first extended postseason experience came in 2022 as a sophomore. He was thrust into the starting point guard role after spending much of the previous year on the bench. Shead said stepping onto the NCAA stage as a starter was another level.

“Last year was probably the most nervous I’ve ever been. Just being in that position for the first time ever.”

Shead and UH’s other tournament-tested vets have helped their younger teammates get in the right mindset for March. Arceneaux has found comfort in the examples they have set.

“They’ve been through it,” Arceneaux said. “They help us get through it, so we’re not really out here being nervous.”

Emanuel Sharp had a similar experience to Shead. He joined the team at mid-semester last year before the team went on an Elite Eight run. Having graduated from high school a semester early, Sharp used his time as a redshirt to learn as much as possible during his first taste of March Madness.

“It’s a lot of details that you’ve got to go over,” Sharp said. “And it’s a quick turnaround because you don’t have as many days to prepare.”

But the example of teammates only goes so far, and getting into the flow of a tournament game can take a while. Sharp says it’s taken until the second half of UH’s first two tournament games for him to play his best.

“In the second half, when you’re out there for a while, you just feel more settled,” Sharp said.

Emanuel Sharp hitting another 3 // Photo by Mario Puente

Sharp stepped up when UH was out of sorts in the second half against Northern Kentucky. The freshman sniper hit two three-pointers and a jumper to give Houston momentum again.

To this point, this group of UH freshmen has stood tall in the Tournament. Between Sharp’s eight-point burst to quell NKU’s upset bid, Walker’s record-breaking six blocks against Auburn, and Arceneaux’s solid play, these young Cougars have proven themselves.

Kelvin Sampson’s trust in the freshmen has paid dividends for their team and the players themselves. Knowing that Sampson turns to them when his stars need a breather or are in foul trouble has injected confidence into them.

“Just knowing that us on the bench, we’re able to come in and make a difference. It’s a lot for our confidence,” Sharp said, “because we haven’t had that big of a moment all year.”

No matter what happens through the chaos of March Madness, these Cougars always know their roles.

“We know what we need to do,” Sharp said.

“Just go out there and play our game and play hard,” Arceneaux parroted.

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