Men’s basketball team welcomes coach’s alma mater
The men’s basketball team will see their first live game action when they host the University of North Carolina at Pembroke Saturday inside Hofheinz Pavilion.
Although this is an exhibition game, it’s the first opportunity for the Cougars to get game reps against an opposing team before the season opener against Morgan State University next Friday.
UNC-Pembroke is the alma mater of Cougar head coach Kelvin Sampson, who graduated from the school in 1978 after lettering in both basketball and baseball.
“I’m really happy that (Vice President of Athletics Hunter Yurachek) allowed us the opportunity to help them out a little bit and bring them out here,” Sampson said at media day. “No matter what I do for them, they have helped me far more.
“I really have a great relationship with the chancellor at UNC-Pembroke. He was one of my high school teammates and former best friends. We do a lot of work to help them fund-raise. It is all about giving back.”
The Braves compete in the NCAA’s Division II and rarely get to play at the nation’s premier universities. This season, however, they get to face basketball powerhouse University of North Carolina Tarheels on Friday before traveling to Houston.
Sampson said that being giving enriches his profession and that some of his fondest memories were made at UNC-Pembroke.
UNC-Pembroke is coming off of a 15-13 season, but have overall performed well across the last few seasons. In 2014-2015, the Braves won their division with a 26-6 record.
The Cougars are coming off of a season in which they went 22-10, but failed to make any noise in postseason. Although an early favorite in the American Athletic Conference Tournament a year ago, the team suffered a heartbreaking 72-69 loss to Tulane University.
The Cougars’ season would then end in the National Invitation Tournament with an 81-62 loss to Georgia Tech University.
Basketball has more experience, depth and, for the first time in Sampson’s tenure, a roster full of his recruits. The Cougars are expected to reach new heights in the upcoming season.
“The significant thing about last year is that we beat everybody in our league,” Sampson said. “We won at Connecticut, Temple, Cincinnati, SMU, Tulsa, and Memphis. That was a big step. The program should get better and better each year. That’s just the way it’s set up.”
Tip off against UNC-Pembroke is scheduled for 7 p.m.