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Sunday, September 22, 2019

Men's Basketball

Sampson, seniors count blessings after bitter Sweet Sixteen loss


Junior guard Armoni Brooks, senior guard Corey Davis Jr. and head coach Kelvin Sampson all spoke about their emotions and memories with the team after the game. | Ahmed Gul/The Cougar

Houston fell to Kentucky during the Sweet Sixteen matchup on Friday, ending the team’s hopes of making it to the Final Four like the legendary UH teams of the past.

The locker room was filled with red-eyed players, emotionally and physically tired from coming back from 13 points down just to fall in the final stretch.

For many, it was the last time they would play together in a Cougar uniform, and winning was not the only goal.

“You know, going to the Elite Eight would be great, but what would mean more to me would be a chance to coach this group of kids again,” said head coach Kelvin Sampson. “That’s what I was looking forward to: another film session, another practice, another game. Just keep playing as long as we could play.”

Sampson has said over and over that this team has been amazing to work with, and he has enjoyed coaching them the whole way through.

His players have felt the same way, with redshirt sophomore DeJon Jarreau regularly tweeting #moreblessings, and others have always praised the coach.

“You know, sometimes in coaching you just get blessed with a great group of kids,” Sampson said. “It’s such a blessing and an honor for me to coach these kids this season, and I say thank you to them for letting me go along on the ride, especially Corey and Galen and Breaon and Landon.”

The quartet of seniors have played their final game under Sampson, and it brought many emotional moments afterward in the locker room and at the postgame press conference.

Senior guard Corey Davis Jr. said it was a harsh ending but the players will never forget what they made together.

“I know we won’t be able to play with each other ever again, but at the same time, we’ve made so many great memories and we just created so many great bonds. It’s something you can’t take away from us,” Davis Jr. said.

The fact that it was the final game was not missed by the younger players either, who still have a year or two to wear the Houston uniform.

Sampson had the seniors say something to the team after the game, which was an emotional moment to sit through, Davis Jr. said.

“We all love each other on and off the floor, and having this be the last game that we’ll play all on the same court together, it really hurts,” said junior guard Armoni Brooks.

It will be up to the young players to continue the team’s legacy and build an even better team. Last season, Houston made it to the round of 32, this year it made the Sweet Sixteen and who is to say the Cougars can’t finish in the Elite Eight in 2020?

That was part of the message Sampson gave the team after the loss. He told the players to look forward and keep working hard.

“He wanted us to remember this feeling. That was the message to the younger guys. It’s their time now,” said senior center Breaon Brady.

The journey was especially tough for senior Galen Robinson Jr., who is the only senior on the team to have been with Houston all four years of his college career.

Even though his team lost, Robinson Jr. said he could be proud of how the team has played and built a foundation for the future.

“Crazy thing, we’re Houston and we just lost to Kentucky and we are hanging our heads. That tells you how far we’ve come,” Robinson Jr. said. “I held my tears until the very end, then I couldn’t hold them no more. I know for a fact we earned some respect. They’re gonna be back next year.”

Now, all the players will return to going to class regularly, and the constant trips will come to a close. The seniors will finish up their final classes before moving on, whether it be to the G League or a regular nine to five, but what the team has built will not disappear.

“We were really looking forward to getting back to practice and being able to be around each other some more, but we’ll all keep in contact with each other. This is a brotherhood we built for life. These are memories we’ll cherish forever,” Brooks said.

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