Sampson optimistic amid improvements over off-season
When it comes to the 2015-2016 Houston men’s basketball team, “everything is different,” said head coach Kelvin Sampson, who enters his second season after leaving his position as assistant head coach of the Houston Rockets.
Strength, depth, and versatility are just a few things fans and students have to look forward to, because of Sampson’s recruiting.
“I had never seen anyone play (last year), I was in the dark,” Sampson said. “I had guys walking up to me in the hallways asking for releases because they wanted to transfer, and I didn’t even know their names.”
Going 13-19 in his first season, Sampson said he thinks people were waiting for them to “get good.”
Lacking key positions throughout the entire season because of injury, Sampson said that this year, the team has a “Noah’s Arc thing going.”
“Two or three point guards, two or three twos, two or three threes, two or three fours, a couple fives,” Sampson said. “We’ve got guys who know how to play more than one position.”
The Cougars enter the year after going on a foreign trip to China in August, which allowed them to have 10 practices that they would not have otherwise, and the chance to compete in four games against professional teams in China, where they won three of the four.
Sampson said they’re at a small advantage.
“Usually the first four days (of practice) is teaching and instructing,” Sampson said. “I did that in July.”
With additions of combo guard Rob Gray, center Kyle Meyer, forward Xavier Dupree, guard Damyean Dotson, point guard Galen Robinson, Jr. and the return of point guard Ronnie Johnson and center Bertand Nkali — who sat out last season — Sampson said he didn’t have to recruit just to fill out a roster, he was able to recruit to help the team win.
“There’s going to be some days where you won’t be able to tell the difference between our bench and our starters,” Sampson said.
Meyer, who said the physical play in China helped the team develop mental toughness, hopes to help make a name for the team, and said he can do whatever task Sampson asks of him.
“I’m a four/five; I can shoot the ball at the three,” Meyer said. “I’m good with my back to the basket and defensive lines — I’m versatile.”
He said he loves the competition of it all.
“It’s going to develop every player individually, everyone is challenged,” Meyer said. “You’re not safe in your spot and everyone wants to get the starting spot, so everyone is going to be pushed just to get the role of the other guy.”
Redshirt-junior forward Danrad Knowles, who started all 32 games at center last year, said that although there is competition, no one on this year’s team has an ego.
“When you go on a losing streak like we did last year, you want to get better and it motivates you because you don’t want it to happen again,” Knowles said. “It’s a whole new level, everyone is better, and that’s what he (Sampson) wants.”
Sampson is getting what he wanted.
With commitment from UH President and Chancellor Renu Khator and the help of Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics Hunter Yurachek, Sampson has been able to make changes and necessary moves, such as recruiting and the team’s new development center, and lay the concrete to build on for the future of the basketball program.
Now, he said, they have something special.
“I understand the process,” Sampson said. “This program can be really good. I think this program is special, and I mean that. It’s not just coach talk”