Men's Basketball

New era begins for Cougars, but not a quick fix


Sampson hopes to rebuild the Houston men’s basketball program from the bottom up, starting with team development and followed by building a strong fan base. Sampson looks to have a team that’s entertaining to watch and anticipates a boost in support once the Cougars establish a home in the planned new facilities in the near future. | Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

After being hired away from the Houston Rockets, Cougars’ first-year coach Kelvin Sampson made his debut as the Cougars’ head coach in an exhibition game against North Alabama, beginning not only a new era for team, but the revival of the facilities and fan base.

There is work to be done. The fan base is seemingly nonexistent, Hofheinz Pavilion is 45 years old and the team had only five returning players. These things have all been addressed by two-time National Coach of the Year and 500-game winning Kelvin Sampson, who welcomes the challenge.

“One of the reasons why I wanted this opportunity is because of the things that make this job a challenge,” said Kelvin Sampson. “What we have to do to make this program really good is very attainable. One is facilities, which our administration has committed to make better.”

Kelvin Sampson carries a big reputation with him to Houston, something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by returner redshirt junior guard Jherrod Stiggers.

“We’ve done a lot of studying on coach and looked at the teams that he’s lead to the NCAA tournament,” said Stiggers. “When you know you’ve got somebody that has a lot of experience and knows what they’re talking about, it feels good.”

The Sampson impact has affected not only the players, both new and returning, but the coaching staff as a whole, especially his son, Kellen Sampson.

“Coming back after six years, it’s been unbelievable,” Kellen said. “He’s really good at his job and for anyone who’s trying to learn and grow in the profession; it’s always beneficial to be around those that are really good at their craft.”

Kelvin said the idea of building a practice facility was necessary. It’s something that everyone else in their league has. So now, the building of a $25 million basketball development facility is in motion. The team has already moved into a brand new locker room, and once the practice facility is done, the renovation of Hofheinz will begin.

But it is not about being glamorous.

“Now we play in a conference where the defending national champions (Connecticut) play in this conference,” Kelvin said. “Their facilities are second to none. University of Memphis’ facilities are second to none. SMU has completely renovated Moody Coliseum, and they’ve built a brand new practice facility and completely redone their facilities and so has Cincinnati.”

With recruiting being so competitive, Kelvin says that in a lot of ways UH has been at a competitive disadvantage for years because of its facilities. But something has to be done about the lack of fan support.

“Most fans won’t come unless you win,” he said. “We understand that. Everything kind of goes around. To win you have to recruit, to recruit you have to have great facilities, if you have great facilities you get better players. You get better players then you can win. So we’re in a process now of upgrading our roster.”

With a new head coach and staff in play, but many unfamiliar faces, fans and students are left to wonder about the state of the team as a whole, and of course, whether or not they can play.

“We’re going to play a very entertaining style,” he said. “We’re going to play as fast as possible and are going to shoot a lot of 3s. Our goal is to be the toughest team, the hardest-working team, and the team that does all the dirty work things to win games. I think that’s what fans want to see. They want to see a blue collar team that gets after it and that’s how we’re going to play.”

The change has proven to make an impact already in the short time Kelvin has spent with the team, and Stiggers sees the changes from previous experience with former head coach James Dickey.

“The biggest thing that stands out to me is how hard we play,” said Stiggers. “There’s a big transition from how we played last year and how we’re paying this year since we’re playing way harder and way tougher.”

With a six-year stint as an assistant coach for the Houston Rockets, Kelvin plans on being a fast-paced, heavy pick-and-roll offensive team, which is very much from the NBA.

“The thing about working in the NBA is that it is great offensive league,” Kelvin said. “Every coach sits around all day trying to figure out how to get this guy a shot or that guy a shot, how to work a big man in around shooters. For us, I think it’s the pace of play. We’ve got to get the ball across half court in three seconds or less, make or miss.”

The time is here and now, but Kelvin plans to build his program and do it the right way.

Meanwhile, Kellen is looking forward to the future of the Houston Cougars, as well as the development of his father’s return to the coaching sphere.

“As his son, I’m most excited to see him back doing what he loves and doing what he was put on this planet to do,” Kellen said. “Some coaches coach because they don’t know what else they would do, but Kelvin Sampson coaches because he has a burning passion to compete and a burning passion to teach.”

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