Head basketball coach James Dickey said the keys to a successful season are simple — the Cougars need to play together and get tougher, embracing the team concept.
“You aren’t going to see selfish play,” Dickey said. “You aren’t going to see guys playing for themselves. They’re going to be playing for the Cougars, and that is what is most important.”
UH stressed defense during summer workouts and is a tougher team because of it, Dickey said. The Cougars finished at the bottom of Conference USA in scoring defense last season.
Dickey also wants his team to become better rebounders, an area where they finished sixth in C-USA.
“One thing that stood out to us is we have to be tougher. Under that toughness comes better defense. We have to be better in the rebounding area,” Dickey said. “We have to take better care of the basketball and not be careless.”
The Cougars may be able to change the mentality of the team with six new players.
Gone are their two leading scorers — redshirt senior guard Jonathon Simmons went pro and junior forward Alandise Harris transferred to Arkansas. Darian Thibodeaux, the team’s best defender last season — no longer has eligibility.
Sophomore forward TaShawn Thomas said UH lacked the mentality to play through adversity last season.
“We lacked toughness last year. When times got rough we had a lot of people that just sat down and let things happen,” Thomas said. “This year we have a tougher team. If something bad happens, we have people that will pick each other up and get us back on a good run.”
Now, presented with a talented freshman class, which is ranked 21st in the nation by ESPN, expectations are abound in Dickey’s third season at the helm of the program.
Freshmen forward Danuel House and center Valentine Izundu will be expected to contribute immediately. Associate head coach Alvin Brooks said Izundu could have an immediate impact as a rebounder and as a defender. Izundu could provide the size UH lacked in the painted area last season.
Dickey said the transition to college basketball is tough and takes patience and understanding but House and Izundu can handle it.
“Almost every guy on our team was the best player on his high school team, and he wanted the ball in his hands,” Dickey said. “Now, they have to be able to give it up and go some place else, and that has not been natural for them.”
UH opens the season today against Concordia at Hofheinz Pavilion, where they have a chance to prove their renewed toughness on the court.