‘All programs have an identity’: For Houston, it’s the rebounding guards
The Cougars are having a strong season with a 16-4 record seven games into the American Athletic Conference play, and the biggest asset of the team up to this point has been rebounding.
“All good programs have an identity,” head coach Kelvin Sampson said. “We pound the rock every day with rebounding and (we make sure to have) multiple rebounders.”
Houston is third in the nation when it comes to rebounds per game, averaging 42.6 a contest, and are first in The American when it comes to offensive boards (14.6 per game) and rebounding margin, (+10.7).
A lot of the rebounding for the Cougars comes from the guards, which is the least expected position to be crashing the boards at a high rate.
Well, least expected for everyone besides Sampson.
“Every team I’ve ever had, the guard’s been the leading rebounder,” Sampson said. “That’s just a by-product of our program.”
The leading rebounder in the 2016-17 season was Damyean Dotson. In 2018-19 the leading rebounder was Armoni Brooks and in 2019-20 the leading rebounder is sophomore guard Nate Hinton. All three players played, or in Hinton’s case, plays, the guard position.
The stat is not just a coincidence either as Sampson makes sure to stress the importance for guards to rebound the ball.
“It plays into our favor, coach emphasizes it every day,” Hinton said. “It definitely plays into our favor cause when the guards get it we can just get out and run.”
Fast-break opportunities in transition are the advantage that Houston wants.
“It’s really easy to score because everyone is scrambling,” said junior guard DeJon Jarreau on the advantage fast-break chances provides. “Somebody could be running beside you, and (that means) you have the upper hand.
When a point guard rebounds, it’s easier to start the fast break than to get the outlet pass. I’m trying to get my focus on that.”
The advantage in transition is not the only reason why Houston focuses on crashing the boards. Another reason is that the team needs it because they struggle to convert on a lot of the first shots taken.
Houston shoots only 43.5 percent from the field, which is fifth in the conference, yet are third in The American when it comes to scoring offense and the reason for it is because of rebounds.
The Cougars practice rebounding by using a bubble that blocks the rim, so every shot taken bounces off and forces the players to box out and go for the ball. Houston even keeps track of potential rebounds that ultimately lead to extra possessions.
“There’s a stat that we keep, it’s called tips,” Sampson said. “When the ball is shot, you’re not always gonna get two hands when you keep it, but somebody has to keep it alive. We want to get between 25 and 30 tips a game.”
Like a lot of what the Cougars do, the rebounding load from the guards can be carried by any player on a given game day.
Houston has had five different guards finish with five rebounds or more in at least one game.
Grimes, Jarreau and Hinton each have at least one game with nine or more rebounds.
Houston’s enormous strength also provides an extra benefit: confidence.
“The way we rebound, as long as we just get the ball up… we’ll be able to get it back,” redshirt freshman Caleb Mills said. “I’m never stressed about taking bad or good shots, I know my teammates have my back.”