Tournament or bust: Basketball sets new goal for 2016
After finishing 22-10 in 2015, the UH men’s basketball team is working on their weaknesses every moment in offseason to keep their loss column in single digits this season.
The team reached the National Invitation Tournament last year, but there is a loftier goal in sight as the new season just weeks away: reaching the NCAA Tournament. This is a target within reach for the Cougars as the team has both young talent and veteran leadership.
“For the first time, our returners are our best players,” said assistant coach Kellen Sampson. “What we walked into (two years ago) was that we had to recruit a bunch of new guys and the first year everyone was new. Obviously, we had an opportunity to get our own group of guys in here last year, and a lot of those guys emerged and took over.”
Developing younger players is an essential part to building long-term success in college basketball. This is more easily done with veterans on the roster.
Returning veteran players encourage an environment for development in the gym. Younger players, through competing with more experienced ones, can improve their skills on the court and maturity in practice.
The younger players go on a learning curve as they will not take the reins as soon as the season starts. Transfer forward Devin Davis is a perfect example.
“Damyean Dotson has been with us for two years; Rob Gray, two years; Galen Robinson, two years.” Sampson said. “Chicken (Knowles) is now in his third year with us, and we added Devin Davis who is going to be a good player. Devin doesn’t have to step in and be the guy right away, he can learn from a bunch of returners.”
Last season, the Cougars seemed to score from all angles on the court. The biggest issue they had was keeping their opponents from doing the same thing.
Junior guard Wes VanBeck said that the team’s defense will have the biggest improvement in the post. He said that the increases in size and weight of their post players will change the dynamic in that area of the court.
In his opinion, Davis is more solid in size than Devonta Pollard was last year, and the addition of junior center Valentine Sangoyomi will improve the post defense.
“We’re working to develop a defensive chemistry and a defensive swag,” said sophomore guard Galen Robinson Jr. “Last year, we were one of the best teams to put the ball in the bucket, but without defense that doesn’t mean anything. Our major focus for us this year is defense and defensive rebounding and doing all the dirty work on the other side of the floor.”
The coaches and players all felt that this is a team that can win the American Athletic Conference championship and get to the NCAA tournament.
With extra attention to their defensive play and the same prolific offense from last season, the Cougars are determined to surprise a lot of teams.
“If we don’t go to the NCAA tournament, that is a disappointment.” Robinson said. “That is not a goal, that is what we expect.”