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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Commentary

Coach Sampson challenges expectations with humility during offseason


Kelvin Sampson is returning after his best season as head coach for the Cougars. | Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

The offseason is a time to rest, recover and improve. Every athlete on the planet has experienced an offseason or a break from organized play. Players need time to take care of themselves heading into competitive seasons, but their coaches also take the time to prepare.

Men’s basketball head coach Kelvin Sampson knows the offseason well, as he has experienced almost 30 summer breaks as a collegiate head coach.

Sampson approaches every offseason with the same mindset. He is focused on the team, his players and improving daily. After his best season yet as head coach for UH, he is ready to help lead the Cougars to another great year.  

Even after the Cougars were removed from postseason play in heartbreaking fashion, the team is not allowing any suffering to follow them into this season.

“I don’t feel any anger,” Sampson said. “But there’s always hunger.”

This hunger for success is the foundation of Sampson’s drive to be a great coach. It pushed him to always take big steps forward and become successful in his own eyes. At this point, other eyes cannot help but notice his success, too.

Sampson has established himself as one of the most accomplished college coaches in recent history. His presence improves teams dramatically and helps them reach their potential. He became the head coach of Montana Tech directly after the school had won only 17 total games in the three years prior.

After a rough first year, Sampson led that team to three consecutive 22-win seasons. Sampson ended his tenure at Montana Tech in 1985. He won the coach of the year award in four different conferences and even won the AP National Coach of the Year award in 1995 for being the best coach in college basketball.

More recently, Sampson led a UH team from near the bottom of the conference to the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament in just five years. The players benefited from buying into Sampson’s philosophies. His beliefs are predicated on hard work and effort at all stages, whether it’s on the court, in the classroom or in their personal lives.

Sampson has been able to see generations of his players grow into men as they move on to their next stage of life. He can also see his players grow into the best competitors they can possibly be. He understands the offseason’s importance to a players’ growth.

“There’s no reason not to become a better player over the offseason,” Sampson said. “Basketball teams are made from October to March, but basketball players are made March to October.”

His effect is undeniable, as three of his players have signed to NBA teams recently. New York Knicks guard Damyean Dotson, Houston Rockets guard Rob Gray and Orlando Magic forward Devin Davis are a few beneficiaries of Sampson’s coaching.

Despite Sampson’s greatness, his humility always persists. Even with the many accomplishments of his team, he goes into every season with a new slate. He pushes out the noise from outside sources about expectations for the team.

“Everybody worries about destination and storylines and all that stuff,” Sampson said. “But there is no storyline with us.”

From his perspective, the Cougars do not have any outside expectations to worry about, and the team can focus on getting better. From the outside, there are several storylines to follow.

Last year, the Cougars made the tournament for the first time since 2010. Junior guard Armoni Brooks won the AAC’s Sixth Man of the Year award, and senior guard Corey Davis Jr. was one of the best shooters in college basketball.

However, the team has a lot to replace in order to repeat the success it had in 2017. Sampson understands the Cougars are different and therefore will have to play differently.

“There’s no committee that is going to replace what (Gray) does at the end of games,” Sampson said. “We don’t have anybody that can do what Rob did. That doesn’t mean somebody can’t develop into that.”

Whether or not the team is able to replace the production from their graduated players, UH is sure to draw more attention this season than it has in several years. Sampson will also be able to add another year under his belt as one of the best coaches in college basketball.

He is entering his 30th season as a head coach, and he knows he still has more to offer.

“When I was the head coach at Washington State when I was 31 years old, they did an article about me being the youngest coach in D1 basketball,” Sampson said. “I remember saying this, ‘My goal is not to be the youngest coach, my goal is to be the oldest coach.’ Well I’m gaining on it.”

The Cougars hope he will be in Houston when he reaches his goal.

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