Cougars ready to start next chapter at Fertitta Center
With a win Wednesday night, Houston wrapped up its stay down the road at Texas Southern and is ready to start history at the Fertitta Center Saturday.
After the game, head coach Kelvin Sampson ended the night by thanking Texas Southern for hosting Houston and reflected on how Houston came to the decision to play there, the team’s record and the future.
“In March of 2017, we didn’t have a home anymore,” Sampson said. “I remember Hunter (Yurachek) took me out to NRG Arena and said, ‘What do you think about this?’ I said not much.”
The travel time from NRG to the University campus was a red flag for Sampson. It would take over an hour on average to get there for games and practices, and each of those games would still be considered a home game.
“It took forever to get from there back to campus and I started thinking, who is going to come watch us play here? Certainly not our students,” Sampson said.
Yurachek served as vice president of UH Athletics at the time and worked closely with Sampson on finding a new home.
Sampson said UH Athletics discussed multiple options like the Del Mar Fairgrounds and other local arenas, but none fit the bill for what he wanted.
Until one day, Sampson picked up the phone. “(I said), why not Texas Southern? (Yurachek) said, ‘Would you play over there?’ I said heck yeah, let’s go look at it,” Sampson said.
The choice was made, and it was a match made in heaven for the Cougars.
Sampson thanked TSU Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics Charles McClelland and former head coach Mike Davis, who have both since left for other positions, for their hospitality.
“They were just awesome. They gave us a sweetheart deal,” Sampson said.
Whenever the Cougars wanted to practice at the H&PE Arena at TSU, Sampson said he just needed to call and the teams would swap practice areas. UH players would load up to go practice at TSU, and the TSU players would come over to practice at the Guy V. Lewis practice facility.
Practicing in the arena that you are going to play in is important for all teams, as each gym feels a little different with lighting setups, space between the court and bleachers and other factors changing from arena to arena.
“Logistically, it’s been tough, but I don’t think Duke has won 19 in a row and they have the best home court advantage in America,” Sampson said. “Think about it, we won 19 in a row in somebody else’s gym.”
Senior Galen Robinson Jr., who played in old Hofheinz before the tear down and played at H&PE for all of last season, said the Fertitta Center will take some getting used to.
“It kind of felt like the night before an away game. It didn’t feel like Hofheinz at all. I was just taking it all in (at the first practice), and it almost brought a tear to me eye,” Robinson Jr. said.
Houston was coming into the game against Rio Grande Valley after a win against BYU in Utah. The game had over 10,000 people in attendance, and Sampson hopes to see similar numbers at Fertitta.
“I’m hoping that’s what the Fertitta Center can give us. Someone that can appreciate what our kids are doing and come support them and not who we’re playing,” Sampson said.
H&PE Arena was rarely sold out, but now fans and students can stay on campus and simply walk to the arena.
“It was kind of hard bringing people into Hofheinz and H&PE. I can’t wait for everyone else to get to see it,” Robinson Jr. said.
The Fertitta Center opener against Oregon sold out Tuesday, and Sampson said the team is looking forward to it.
“We’ve had great games. But, we’ve never played in the Fertitta Center. A lot of people are coming to see the Fertitta Center,” Sampson said. “But the Fertitta Center will be there forever. This basketball team will only be here this year. Come support your Cougars.”