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Thursday, June 8, 2023

Men's Basketball

ESPN ‘College GameDay’ ushers in revived basketball program

ESPN’s “College GameDay” host Rece Davis spoke with students before the show aired at 10 a.m. nationally on ESPN. | Kathryn Lenihan/The Cougar

Houston was all the rage Saturday morning after ESPN’s “College GameDay” morning show made its first basketball visit to campus ahead of the Cougars’ high-profile matchup against UCF.

UH is in the homestretch of its season, and with just a few games left, the No. 12 Cougars find themselves in the national spotlight for the first time in more than 30 years.

“College GameDay” analyst Jay Bilas had a lot of praise for head coach Kelvin Sampson and his strides with the program.

“It’s more of a resurrection than a rebound,” Bilas said. “(Sampson) has breathed new life into a program that was really good and really proud 30-plus years ago. It’s a real program now.”

Houston has had its fair share of highs and lows since the days of Texas’ Tallest Fraternity in the ‘80s, but during Sampson’s tenure, the team has found itself on an upswing that includes four straight 20-win seasons.

Although Sampson’s revamping of the program is not overlooked, many give credit to the newly renovated Fertitta Center and the effect it has on fans.

“This is intimidating,” Jay Williams, fellow analyst and colleague of Bilas, said of the refurbished arena. “It seems like people are going to be right on top of you, and it seems like the atmosphere is going to be alive. The vibe here is what basketball should be.”

UH is the best it has been in a very long time, and visits by prominent shows like “College GameDay” prove it.

Houston legend and NBA Hall of Famer Elvin Hayes believes the national exposure the team has been met with this season is an improvement.

“It lets the country know that, once again, UH is a major power in college basketball,” Hayes said.

Despite its 69-64 loss to UCF, there is no such thing as bad publicity, and in a time when some do not take the team seriously despite its 27-2 record and No. 12 ranking, it is important the Cougars receive the recognition.

Broadcast journalism sophomore Mady Chidester, who frequents the team’s games and was part of the ESPN broadcast, has high praise for Houston being in the limelight.

“There is a big buzz of campus,” Chidester said. “Everyone is talking about the games and getting excited about them.”

Houston has taken itself to the top and finally been acknowledged.

Even Rece Davis, the host of the ESPN show, had praise for the Cougars, saying the team can go toe-to-toe with any team in the country.

“Houston can compete with anybody,” Davis said.

How the Cougars will move forward after the loss is not yet known, but with the nation’s eyes now on the team, it will be up to Sampson and his players to find the way.

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