Kelvin Sampson excited as ever as UH men’s basketball begins practicing
Even at 66, Kelvin Sampson was like a kid on Christmas morning heading into UH men’s basketball’s first practice.
“I had goosebumps. My eyes got big,” Sampson said following UH’s first practice. “I couldn’t wait. I been really excited. I didn’t sleep much last night. I got up this morning excited.”
Sampson came up to the Guy V. Lewis Development Center, the home of both UH’s men’s and women’s basketball programs, on Sunday, Sept. 24, the day before the Cougars’ first official practice. He didn’t turn any of the lights on as he went up to his office so that he would not be bothered.
All alone, Sampson walked through his office into the team’s conference room and got to work.
“I drew up a practice plan by myself,” Sampson said. “Then I went through all of our sets that I want to teach the first two or three days and I was excited. I was excited to do that. And I’m glad I was because when I don’t get excited to that, that’s when you know.”
Full speed right from the jump
There is no easing into things under Sampson.
As soon as 3 p.m. on Sept. 27 arrived, the start of UH’s first practice, it was full steam ahead.
“You can’t prepare for anything that coach Sampson does,” said junior point guard Jamal Shead. “You can talk about it. You can envision it. But you can’t prepare yourself for it.”
Freshman forward Jarace Walker, the highly touted five-star recruit out IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, knew what he was getting into when he committed with UH but at the same time had absolutely no clue what he had just signed up for.
“It’s another level here,” Walker said following his first collegiate practice. “Just the intensity of everything, how hard they go in every single drill. There’s definitely another level to it.”
It only took Walker one practice to learn nothing comes easy under Sampson.
Just because Walker is the highest-ranked recruit of the modern era in program history doesn’t mean he will receive special treatment. In fact, playing time isn’t even guaranteed for him or anyone else on the roster for that matter.
“When we get new players, everybody starts slobbering over them like they are already there,” Sampson said. “None of these guys are ready to impact winning. None of them. Name me a player. He’s not ready to impact winning if he’s a first-year player.”
Under Sampson, everything is earned. Nothing is given.
“They earn their playing timing starting today,” Sampson said. “That’s the great thing about having competitive practice, you hold guys accountable more.”
Embracing the learning process
Even with the high expectations that Sampson sets for each of his players, the veteran coach understands that failure is part of the game.
“Today went about as I would have predicted,” Sampson said. “The guys that struggled the most are the new guys. And they’ll learn.”
These struggles don’t concern Sampson. In fact, he views it as necessary if a player is ever going to make an impact for the Cougars’ on the court.
Sampson only cares about one thing when a player makes a mistake — effort.
“Making mistakes is not the problem,” Sampson said. “It’s the effort you’re making when you’re making your mistakes. You got to learn to make your mistakes going 100 miles per hour.”
Sampson is the first to admit that his team is nowhere near the status of a national championship contender, even the favorite amongst some college basketball experts, that has been placed upon the Cougars entering the 2022-23 season.
This will take time and Sampson understands that.
UH’s chemistry and execution on the court will come as the season progresses. All Sampson asks of his players now is that they bring two things to each and every practice as the Cougars prepare to kick off the new campaign on Nov. 7.
“Effort and attitude are things they can control and that’s what this program is all about,” Sampson said.