Scouting opponents helped Kelvin Sampson grow as a coach

UH players know that they'll be better prepared than their opponents

When Kelvin Sampson started as the head coach at Montana Tech, he had no assistant coach to lean on, game-tape exchange, or televised games. To scout games, Sampson would make one-day trips in sub-zero temperatures to watch his Frontier Conference rivals:

– 225 miles to Rocky Mountain College in Billings,
– 176 miles to the College of Great Falls (now the University of Providence),
– 70 miles to Carroll College, where he’d scout dual-sport star Bobby Petrino, and
– 80 miles to the University of Montana Western in Dillon.

With little prior scouting knowledge, Sampson had to learn to analyze teams and what to look for on the fly.

“I was a college head coach at 25,” Sampson said. “The only person I’d ever seen do a scouting report was Jud Heathcote at Michigan State, so I tried to do it like he did it.”

Kelvin Sampson and the Cougars during a timeout vs. Tulane // Photo by Mario Puente

Even when given more resources, Sampson insisted on doing it himself. At Montana Tech, the defensive backs coach from the football team was assigned to be Sampson’s assistant, but Sampson says he didn’t know him, so he could not trust him. So he continued driving around Montana to watch his Frontier Conference opponents.

“I just had a hard time trusting that people would do it right,” Sampson said. “I did everything myself.”

Now at Houston, with a squad of trustworthy assistant coaches, all of whom played for him at Oklahoma, as well as graduate assistants and former coaches in administrative roles, Sampson has created a system that he believes is right for his program.

“You have to make everything yours,” Sampson said. “You can’t do what other guys did…so I just started adding things and subtracting things.”

The experience of his staff is evident. Quannas White and Hollis Price spent years going through Sampson’s scouting reports while they were players and now while working for him. In addition, special assistant to the head coach K.C. Beard spent more than a decade in the video room in college and the NBA, cutting up the game film and learning what coaches want to see. Kelvin says his son, assistant coach Kellen Sampson, has spent his entire life around game planning.

“He’s watched a lot more scouting reports before he got here than he has since he’s been here,” Sampson said.

Sampson diagraming plays // Photo by Mario Puente

UH’s basic scouting reports consist of a list of the upcoming opponent’s roster with their positions, measurements, and style of play, along with a list of keys to the game on offense and defense.

Players are expected to memorize those reports, and when supplemented with film, they believe they are fully prepared for anything they’ll see. For example, Marcus Sasser felt that he “knew what was going to happen before it happened” on Wednesday night against Tulane when the Cougars grabbed a Sampson-era record 16 steals and held a previously hot-shooting team to under 60 points.

Houston’s improvement in their second matchup against teams like Tulane and Temple is a product of a scouting idea Sampson learned in the NBA.

While on the staff in Milwaukee, Kelvin was shown the importance of post-game evaluation forms by then-head coach Scott Skiles. After games, his assistants write up their personal evaluations of what they saw and come up with adjustments, ideas, or any other thoughts for use in the future.

As associate head coach under Kevin McHale in Houston, Sampson would delegate scouting reports to the other assistants, keeping the best teams for himself. That way, he learned more about how they ran their offense and the particular concepts they execute well. For example, he took the opportunity to learn how a Terry Stotts-coached Portland team or a Chris Paul-led Clippers team ran the league’s most potent scoring attacks.

“A lot of it was learning in the NBA,” Sampson said, “but I also stole some ideas that we use here.”

UH players are so in-tune with the scouting reports they receive that they can usually recite the jersey numbers and player actions from years ago.

“When I played, we were never out-scouted by anyone,” former UH star Galen Robinson said on a Thursday visit to the Guy V. Lewis Development Center. “We felt we had a decided scouting advantage in every game. Every coach that did our scouting reports were molded in (Kelvin’s) system. We were always prepared.”

GoCoogs needs your support! Our content output on the 2022-23 UH Basketball Team is unparalleled when it comes to articles, videos, behind-the-scenes, and social media. Please consider subscribing to for just $89.99 a year (or $10.99 monthly). We need supporters like you to continue to provide our coverage as the Coogs head into the Big 12.

Starns Leland
Starns Leland
Starns is the co-host of the Cougar After Thoughts Show (CATS!), a contributor, and the sports editor for the UH student newspaper, The Cougar.