Remembering the journey: UH basketball celebrates a historic season
Making the Final Four for the first time in 37 years isn’t the first thing that comes to Kelvin Sampson’s mind when he looks back on the 2020-21 Houston basketball team.
Rather the smaller moments come to the forefront of Sampson’s mind when he reflects on the Cougars historic season like eating gas station chicken salad, potato chips and honey buns as the team meal on a February afternoon when the entire city of Houston was without power and water or only having six guys available to practice due to COVID-19 protocols.
“Everything we went through shaped us and formed us but I’ll remember the journey,” Sampson said. “Making the Final Four was the destination but the journey that this team went through was unbelievable.”
The Cougars encountered many road bumps on their journey, but instead of succumbing to all these challenges and crumbling, this UH team rose to the occasion and drew even closer together, making the lows more bearable and the highs that much sweeter.
“This city has gone through a lot in the last 12 months. The city needed something to bring in a lot of positive energy,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said Wednesday night during the UH basketball program’s Final Four celebration. “In 2017, the Astros carried this city. The city was in desperate need of somebody, some team, to carry this city one more time. Who better to turn to but the University of Houston Cougars?”
But just how was this UH team able to be the light the city needed in a time filled with so much darkness?
It was because the team realized they were playing for something far greater than themselves, Sampson said, and that mentality was speared by its seniors.
“When you play for each other, you play for something bigger than yourselves it’s amazing what you can accomplish,” Sampson said. “And this team did.”
UH reaped the rewards.
The Cougars won 28 games, tied for the second-most of any team in the country, took home the American Athletic Conference tournament title for the first time in program history and made the school’s first Final Four since 1984.
While UH ultimately fell short in the Final Four, the Cougars returned to Houston receiving a hero’s welcome.
Even with the limited capacity, Fertitta Center was filled with roars and clapping hands throughout Wednesday night as the 2020-21 team gathered together for one final time.
Turner officially declared the month of April “University of Houston Basketball Month” in the city of Houston.
Sampson thanked every single individual associated with the program by name, from the student-managers to the coaches’ wives to the team doctors.
The crowd erupted into “One more year!” chants when the junior guard Quentin Grimes stepped to the microphone.
Seniors DeJon Jarreau, Justin Gorham and Brison Greshman expressed their gratitude to the coaches, their teammates and the fans for all the moments shared at UH.
It was all capped off red and white by confetti raining down onto the Fertitta Center court, the perfect culmination of a special journey that the UH program and its fans will never forget.
“The support is indescribable,” Grimes said. “Even with a limited capacity, it still feels like it’s at 1000 percent all the time with just how much everybody’s cheering for you, cheering for the team and just how much we did for the city.”
While the legacy of the 2020-21 UH basketball team will be graven into the program’s history, the coaching staff, players and fans believe this is just the tip of the iceberg for what the Cougars will accomplish in the future.
President Renu Khator is leading the charge with her expectations for the team sky high.
“I brought out my dancing shoes and I’m not putting them too far back in the closet because we’ll be needing them again next year,” Khator said. “Just wait until we are back next year.”