Sampson preaches need for consistency through conference play
For head coach Kelvin Sampson, the message is simple.
“We’re in the middle of January now. It’s not time to be up and down. It is time to be consistent,” Sampson said during his radio show on Monday evening.
The Cougars have played through 16 games in the season and although the team sits in third place in the American conference with a 12-4 record. Sampson sees the inconsistency in performance as an issue that needs to be fixed soon, even if it means lineup changes.
“We’ve gotten better in some areas, but every game we’ve lost, and this is where (the team’s) culture has to get better, we’ve been out-toughed, and that hasn’t happened a lot,” Sampson said. “We aren’t that far away from being 15-1.”
Houston’s season has been filled with roller coaster moments from game-to-game even in some of its biggest wins of the campaign. The team has had to overcome obstacles, for example overcoming a late deficit against the conference rival Owls back on Jan. 7.
“That Temple game is a great analogy of our team,” Sampson said. “Really good the first half and then we jumped into the witness protection program for about 10 minutes there and next thing you know Temple jumped ahead of us.”
The Cougars were able to close out the Owls for the conference game win, but it did require a 6-0 run after trailing to create breathing room and good late-game execution after losing a double-digit lead to seal the win.
Sampson contributes a lot of the inconsistency to the lack of older veterans on the team.
“This is the first time in our six years that we’ve been young,” Sampson said. “There have always been olds, and older teams are a lot different to coach than younger teams… every young team I’ve coached in my career, the hallmark (has been) inconsistency.”
Center Chris Harris Jr. is the only senior on the roster, and because of the lack of veterans, it has forced many younger players to have to step into that role much sooner.
“This team didn’t have anyone to show them how to practice,” Sampson said. “Nate (Hinton) is a sophomore. He was kind of a veteran. Fabian’s not a guy that is going to go get in front of anybody, Cedrick (Alley) isn’t necessarily like that, and Chris is kind of a gentle giant.”
The benefit that a veteran provides for a team is that it allows the younger players to have an example of expectations for the program.
“When you think about all the guys we lost off of those teams, an underrated loss was Wes Vanbeck,” Sampson said. “Wes really drove our culture in practice every day. He showed any new guy who came to the program (about the culture) — all you had to do was watch West practice.”
Despite the up-and-down play from the team, Sampson believes there is a lot of potential waiting to be tapped.
“If we were a piece of chicken, there’d still be a lot of meat on that bone,” Sampson said. “That bone’s not clean yet.”
Even though Sampson has confidence in the team’s skill, he acknowledged during his radio show on Monday evening that the sense of urgency to have more steady performances is beginning to increase.
“Sometimes you got to shake things up,” Sampson said. “Starting (Monday) we kind of had open tryouts. I said if you’re not going to play the way we want to play then I’m going to play somebody else.
“I’m interested to see who is going to play on Wednesday night. Cause I’m not going to keep rolling the same ones out there and expecting a different result. Isn’t that the definition of insanity? Well, I ain’t insane.”