Kelvin Sampson, UH reflect on the year of the pandemic
When Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson gets on the team bus on Thursday to head towards Fort Worth for the American Athletic Conference Tournament, he will be reminded of a year ago.
“The last time we did that, Chris Harris’ college career ended on the back of a bus heading north on I-45,” Sampson told reporters on Wednesday morning in a Zoom meeting. “A college player’s career shouldn’t end on the back of a bus heading towards I-45. There’s gotta be a song somewhere in there, doesn’t it? Muddy Waters and those guys would go to town with that.”
A year ago, the Cougars were about an hour away from arriving at Fort Worth when Sampson started walking towards the back of the bus and waking his players up. He had just received a call from the league office.
Once he got all of his player’s attention, he told them the AAC Tournament had been canceled because of coronavirus concerns. All the UH players were in shock.
“Man, the season is over,” junior guard Quentin Grimes recalls thinking that day. “We’re going back home … I feel like we lost out on a chance to do something special last year because we were kind of clicking at the right time.”
At around the same time, Tramon Mark, a freshman guard for UH, was traveling with his Dickinson High School team towards San Antonio for the state championship.
Similar to his soon-to-be college team, Mark and his high school teammates also had to make a turnaround shortly after arriving in San Antonio. The state championship had been canceled. It was the beginning of an unprecedented time, not only for the athletes and coaches, but the entire world.
“There were so many great stories last year that got robbed,” said UH head coach Kelvin Sampson when reminiscing of the canceled AAC and NCAA Tournaments a year ago. “Some of those coaches may never have a team like that (again).”
Sampson listed a handful of teams like San Diego State that went 30-2 during last season, or players like Dayton forward Obi Toppin, who was drafted by the New York Knicks and never got a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament and experience the thrill of March Madness.
“Everybody just felt like something was stolen from you,” Sampson said. “Somebody stole that opportunity. Stole that moment. Stole that memory. Those memories last a lifetime.”
The Pembroke, North Carolina, native still recalls his first trip to the NCAA Tournament with Washington State back in the 1993-94 season.
WSU was the No. 8 seed in their region and it lost to No. 9 Boston College by only three points. Had Sampson’s team advanced, it would have played against No. 1 seed North Carolina.
It is those memories that Sampson wishes his players last season had experienced.
“Everything we do is all about memories,” Sampson said. “The victories and the defeats. It’s all a part of it. That’s why ABC’s Wide World of Sports, Jim McKay, the agony of defeat and thrill of victory. That is still what the (NCAA) tournament is all about.”