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Sunday, October 1, 2023

Men's Basketball

Seniors boosted ‘uncool’ program to success

In the latest two of head coach Kelvin Sampson’s first three years, the Cougars have had twenty win seasons. This is thanks mostly in part to the graduating class. | Courtesy of UH Athletics

The Cougars’ 2016-17 basketball season didn’t end as they would’ve liked.

Since they fell to UConn in the American Athletic Conference Championship, the Cougars moved to the National Invitation Tournament. There, they faced off against the No.7 seed, Akron.

After a back and forth game where the lead changed 16 times, the Cougars found themselves behind 3 with 6.7 seconds left. Sophomore guard Galen Robinson Jr. started with the ball, driving it up the court. He turned and passed the ball to redshirt senior guard Damyean Dotson. With Akron’s 6-foot-10 center, Isiaiah Johnson, standing in the way, Dotson had to take a step back and shoot from a couple feet from the 3-point line.

The ball bounced off the rim, and the buzzer sounded.

“It’s a tough miss. That one play does not define the whole game.” Dotson said. “All the stuff before that sums up the game, not that shot.”

With the loss against Akron, the Cougars end their season at 21-11 overall. Five seniors are leaving the program in Dotson, center Kyler Meyer, forward Danrad “Chicken” Knowles, forward Xavier Dupree and center Bertrand Nkali.

Redshirt junior Rob Gray led in points with 24 with Dotson right behind him at 19.

The Cougars found themselves in foul trouble throughout the game. Redshirt junior Devin Davis picked up his fourth personal foul with 4:10 left in the game and later fouled out at 1:22. Meyer picked up his fourth and fifth fouls in the last minute of the game, the fifth intentional to send Akron to the free throw line.

End of the road

“There was a lot of tears back there for different reasons,” said head coach Kelvin Sampson. “Some because we lost, some because there’s no tomorrow.”

To Sampson, this graduating class has special meaning, as they signed with UH during a time when Cougar basketball was struggling. Sampson said there was no “rebuilding” process when he first came to Houston because there was nothing to build off of.

Two years ago in the 2014-15 season, the first under Sampson, the Cougars went 13-19 and weren’t even invited to a postseason tournament. Since then, however, the Cougars have improved dramatically. The next season, they went 22-10, and they finished their current season at 21-11.

“(The seniors) chose to come to Houston when maybe it wasn’t cool. People would probably ask ‘why are you going there?’” Sampson said. “As we continue to build this program, get to NCAA tournaments and advance in the tournament, we’ll always look back at this group of seniors and say they started it.”

Losing a leader

For Sampson, the senior who was arguably the best player and leader was Dotson. Dotson played at Oregon his first two years, and didn’t even compete in the 2014-15, as he was attending Houston Community College.

The biggest reason Dotson was such a good player was because he was coachable, Sampson said.

“He will not be forgotten,” Sampson said. “He’s heard me use Hollis Price and guys from other schools that I’ve coached, but now I have another name to use: Damyean Dotson.”

Although he missed his final shot as a senior, Dotson became the 47th Cougar to make 1,000 points during his career at UH. He joins redshirt junior guard Rob Gray, who surpassed 1,000 career points earlier this season.

This season as well, Dotson was on the court for more minutes than any other Cougar. He made the most 3-pointers (108) with the second highest 3-point shooting percentage (44.3 percent).

“If anything you do, just look back and always remember to work hard, listen to coach, do what he asks and never stop working,” Dotson said. “Everybody remembers me as an example. I try to do my best, make it to the tournament next year. That was my finishing statement: Make it to the tournament next year for me.”

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