‘Zoom is Zoom, but flesh is flesh’: Kelvin Sampson’s Cougars look to make up time, stay safe with return to workouts
It has been over four months since Kelvin Sampson’s Houston team was together and able to practice without restrictions.
On Monday, the players were allowed into the training facility for workouts after a pause in June due to six positive COVID-19 cases from UH student athletes, but things are still far from normal.
When the players, coaches and staff walk into the facility they must all be wearing a mask and get their temperatures checked. They have hygiene tables to wash their hands and everyone gets fresh red towels to open doors with.
The assistant coaches have also broken up the team into smaller groups to work out with. Everything is as individualized as possible.
“We’re lucky to be able do what we’re doing,” head coach Kelvin Sampson said on Friday in a Zoom briefing with the media. “I don’t look at this as a negative or that we are behind. I feel fortunate that we are able to do what we’re doing.”
Like many in the country, the UH men’s basketball team is facing lots of uncertainty about the future.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen in September and October,” Sampson said. “We are sitting back like everyone else.”
The only thing that the Cougars can control right now is ensuring they make the training facilities on campus as safe as they can by “following everything to a T.”
The head coach has been in constant contact with head trainer John Houston to make sure the team is following the guidelines as strictly as possible, which included pushing back the Cougars’ first scheduled team practice to Friday afternoon as they await the results of COVID-19 tests they took on Thursday.
While the student-athletes return to training, there is no doubt that their lives have been impacted drastically by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s forced them to think about their futures,” Sampson said.
According to the head coach, the long pause due to the novel coronavirus has caused his players to start thinking about their futures and has made one unnamed player, in particular, think about life without basketball.
“That was a powerful statement that young man made,” Sampson said. “I think it forces you to look at academics, your relationships, your future… “It makes you appreciate basketball because it can be taken away from us.”
On top of basketball, the global pandemic has also taken away the everyday human interactions that seemed trivial before the pandemic.
“I do wake every morning feeling a little bit lost,” Sampson said. “Like I’m missing something here, and what I’m missing is a normal June, a normal July that (leads) into a normal August.”
In a regular summer, the Cougars would have already been several weeks into their summer program. The freshmen on the team would have a first-hand experience of what it’s like to be a member of the Cougars, and Sampson would be able to be there during the process.
With the pandemic, however, Houston is not even at square one.
“I don’t get to touch my kids. I don’t get to hug them, or fist bump, or high five them. Especially the freshmen,” Sampson said. “I feel like I’m not as close to Jamal Shead, Tramon Mark and Kiyron Powell as I normally would be.”
While the Cougars have been in contact throughout the summer with video calls, the connection is still different, and it is something that the head coach hopes he can make up for as time goes on.
“Zoom is Zoom, but flesh is flesh, and you don’t build great relationships by Zooming,” Sampson said. “That feeling hasn’t gone away. There’s a little bit of guilt. There’s a little bit of loss. There’s a little bit of I need to be doing more.”