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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Sports

MEN’S BASKETBALL: Coach aiming for conference title


After 35 years of coaching college basketball, including five at UH, head coach Tom Penders is feeling renewed for the upcoming season.

Some fans may wonder where the new sense of optimism comes from, especially after missing the NCAA tournament every year he’s been at UH. But backing from University officials has Penders upbeat about the future of basketball at UH.

‘I believe this is our best team,’ Penders said, adding that a Conference USA title is in play this year. ‘(The title is) certainly a goal of ours and something you can say is a realistic goal to have. You could never say that before.’

Having a team led by three experienced seniors with leadership qualities helps, Penders said. Aubrey Coleman, Kelvin Lewis and Sean Coleman took such roles to heart last year as juniors, when the team featured an entirely new starting lineup.

‘We have a great senior class,’ Penders said. ‘All three of them are outstanding leaders ‘- the kind of guys you want as the backbone of your team.’

But having experience is also an asset to Penders, who draws from 25 years of saved game plans to prepare for the season.

‘Experience really kicks in, and I believe that I can draw upon past teams in getting (the current team) involved and ready,’ Penders said. ‘You’ve got to be able to evaluate the abilities of your team. You can’t make big mistakes in the coaching area and be successful.’

Penders is hopeful about newcomers like 6-9 forward Kirk Van Slyke and 6-7 forward Kendrick Washington, who both appear to have the talent to help the team this year.

Adding to the optimism is a change in the trade winds from school officials. Penders said it started from the top-down, with support from UH President Renu Khator and first-year athletic director Mack Rhoades, both of whom have championed UH athletics and are looking into possibly renovating Robertson Stadium and Hofheinz Pavilion.

‘When you have your president come into your locker room and talk to your team, which she asked to do … it’s wonderful,’ Penders said. ‘She got right off the bat and came and expressed her desire to build and compete at the highest level.’

With his job far from over, Penders is getting his team ready for its first game against Nicholls State on Nov. 17, as well as a trip later this month to Anchorage, Alaska, to take part in the Great Alaska Shootout on national TV.

He’s hoping that students will come and cheer the team on at all home games, stressing their influence on the game’s momentum.

‘When our students are here, we’re awfully tough to beat,’ Penders said. ‘Basketball is the only sport I know where you have a real home-court advantage.’

He knows where the bar is set, especially at UH with names like Guy V. Lewis and Bill Yeoman coming to mind.

‘The tradition here really stopped in ’84,’ Penders said. ‘We’ve changed the culture from a dreadful loser to a consistent 20-game winner … Our kids go on the floor and expect to win.’

With Cougar football undergoing a renaissance, can basketball be far behind?

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