Cougars headed in right direction
It’s hard to ask UH fans to get excited about the basketball team year after year when they have produced so little over the last twenty years.
Eventually fans lose faith, and they stop showing up. But things are looking up for the Cougars after a strong early signing period.
Head coach James Dickey and his coaching staff has had early success in the recruiting process. They have assembled an incoming class that should help the Cougars be much better than last season’s 12-18 (4-12 Conference USA) 11th place finish.
It won’t be 1983 Phi Slama Jama-better, but next season should mark the beginning of several winning seasons for the Cougars as Dickey and his staff are proving able to attract intriguing talent to UH.
Dickey’s staff is a blend of youth and experience with assistants Alvin Brooks, who was the head coach of the Cougars from 1993-98, Daniyal Robinson and Ulric Maligi. Between the four coaches, they have coached 45 NBA players.
As fans, it might be hard to buy in again after the theme of last fall was a fresh start under a new regime. However, Dickey had several factors working against him after inheriting Tom Penders’ roster.
Maturity issues and the lack of a go-to scorer on offense plagued the Cougars throughout 2010-11.
Sophomore forward Kendrick Washington, who could have been an asset in the post on offense, was suspended to start the season, battled a staph infection that sidelined him for three weeks and was then suspended again for unspecified team violations. He never looked in shape or interested when on the court.
Senior guard Adam Brown, who was supposed to be a team leader, was suspended indefinitely with three games remaining in the season, and was in street clothes for Senior Day.
Washington was granted his release from the team last month along with guard Nick Haywood. Brown’s eligibility has run out.
Other players who will be graduating or have run out of eligibility include Zamal Nixon, Maurice McNeil and Cory Tellis.
McNeil’s length will be missed inside, as will Nixon’s leadership and defense from the point guard position.
Change is neccesary
An infusion of new talent is necessary.
Last season, the Cougars would hang with teams late in games, but never had a dominant offensive player who could consistently get to the hole or create one for others because of the attention that he drew.
Brown was a decent catch-and-shoot threat, but he lacked the aggressiveness and strength to consistently make it into the paint and finish.
McNeil also showed flashes on offense, but his inconsistency was sometimes maddening. He would take his man off the dribble from the elbow on one play to score and botch a layup the next time down the floor.
Young to the rescue?
Scoring in crunch time should not be a problem next season though, because guard Joseph Young will be taking over one of the two starting guard spots vacated by Nixon and Brown.
Young was ruled ineligible last season after breaking his National Letter of Intent with Providence, but he was still able to participate in practice with UH. The NCAA originally ruled that Young would be forced to sit out his first season and lose a year of eligibility. That decision was retracted and Young will start his career at UH as a redshirt freshman.
He is something of a local hero after leading Yates High School to back-to-back Class 4A championships. As a senior, Young averaged 27 points per game. He should be able to step right into the starting lineup at the start of the season at either guard position.
He also comes from a familiar namesake. His father, Michael Young, was a contributing member to the Phi Slama Jama.
Young will help space the floor for the Cougars — he has ridiculous range on his jumper and has been known to run off streaks of bombs from deep.
The combo guard was given a 93-scouting grade on a scale to 100 on ESPN.com and was their 98th best prospect out of the class of 2010.
Instant support in the post
The biggest catch of the early recruiting period might prove to be 6’8 forward Tashawn Thomas. Thomas was placed in 89th overall and was the only 2011 recruit to be ranked in the ESPNU 100. ESPN graded him the 16th best forward in the nation.
With the departures of McNeil and Washington, Thomas has an opportunity to see playing time immediately.
Thomas should help right away in two areas that were weaknesses for UH last season, rebounding and protecting the hoop.
He averaged 15 points, 11 rebounds and seven blocks per game as a junior at Killeen High School. Thomas led Killeen to a playoff appearance this season.
The Cougars netted additional backcourt help this season with two guards from assistant coach Maligi’s former AAU team, the Dallas Mustangs, with commitments from Jherrod Stiggers and Jevante “J.J.” Thompson.
The 6’4, 200-pound Stiggers comes with many of the same skills that Brown provided last season as a catch and shoot and spot-up player, but with better size for the two-guard position.
Thompson is known for his abilities as a defender and should compete with Young and swing-player Darian Thibodeaux.
LeRon Barnes, 6’6, will be another fresh face on the perimeter for UH. Barnes averaged 33 points, 10 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game as a senior at North DeSoto High School in Stonewall, La.
Barnes has not yet signed his Letter of Intent, but has given UH a verbal commitment. He figures to see time at both shooting guard and small forward.
Thomas, Stiggers, Thompson and Barnes are all rated as three star prospects by Rivals.com.
With one scholarship remaining, the Cougars should probably look to add depth in the frontcourt.
Because most of their rotation players from last season are gone, the Cougars will lean heavily on the returning players Thibodeaux and Alandise Harris. Harris turned in a strong freshman season for the Cougars, averaging 9.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and one block in 23.2 minutes per game.
Did the Cougars bring in the second comings of Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler for next season? Not quite, but Dickey and his staff now have a solid foundation to build on.