Men's Basketball Sports

Kelvin Sampson has strong expectations for incoming freshman class, redshirt J’Wan Roberts

Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson honoring the University's alma mater tradition at the conclusion of every home game. | Kathryn Lenihan/ The Cougar

Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson honoring the University’s alma mater tradition, which plays after every home game. | Kathryn Lenihan/ The Cougar

Under the guidance of head coach Kelvin Sampson, the men’s basketball program has undergone a massive renaissance as the Cougars have won back-to-back American Athletic Conference titles and would have likely made their third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance if not for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Much of the Cougars’ recent success can be attributed to the job Sampson and his staff has done recruiting young talent and Houston’s 2020 class is no different.

The Cougars have put together the top recruiting class in the AAC and the 28th overall in the country, according to 247 Sports.

One of the things Sampson’s staff prioritizes is recruiting across the greater Houston area, and the Cougars’ 2020 class is no different as it is highlighted by Dickinson-standout Tramon Mark.

“From day one we said that we wanted to be a program that recruited inside-out because of the strength of the city of Houston,” Sampson said. “We’ve had three of the last five Guy V. Lewis Player of the Year Award winners in Galen Robinson, Quentin Grimes, and now Tramon Mark … Tramon’s just another in a long line of outstanding guards that come from this city.”

Mark, a four-star recruit and third-ranked high school player in Texas, won the 2020 Guy V. Lewis Award in March.

Mark’s accolades point to his talent, but what impresses Sampson the most is his ability to play multiple positions at a high level.

“Tramon is a Swiss Army Knife,” Sampson said. “I don’t know what he’s great at, but he’s really good at a lot of things.”

One example Sampson touted of Mark’s flexibility was at an NBA Top-100 camp a year ago in Virginia.

The point guard on Mark’s team did not show up and Mark, who usually played the two-guard spot for his high school team, was thrust into playing the one, and he ended up leading the event in assists, Sampson said.

The biggest strength for Houston in 2019-20 was its depth, so it is no surprise that the team’s draft class has multiple standouts.

Jamal Shead, who played at Manor High School and is No. 5 in 2020 Texas high school players, is another member of the talented freshman class.

“Jamal’s one of those kids who just fits who we are,” Sampson said. “We try to recruit kids who play the way we coach rather than just take a kid that’s a long way away from who we are.”

Sampson likes how Shead, who is only 6-foot-1, uses his strength to make up for his lack of size and sees a lot of Galen Robinson Jr. in him.

“I remember recruiting Galen before his senior year, and I had a lot of the same feelings about Jamal that I did with Galen,” Sampson said. “I think Jamal is going to have an outstanding career for us at the University.”

The final member of the incoming class is Kiyron Powell, a big man who played his high school ball in Evansville, Indiana.

“Kiyron is 6-foot-10 and has about a 7-1 wingspan,” Sampson said. “Kiyron’s an outstanding natural shot blocker. It just comes easy to him. He has good timing and is a very good athlete … He’s a kid that plays hard with great energy and a lot of enthusiasm. We’re expecting Kiyron to come in and play right away.”

While Mark, Shead and Powell make up the Cougars incoming freshman class, they will not be the only new faces on the court. Houston is also adding J’Wan Roberts to the lineup after he redshirted in 2019-20.

“I think the most athletic kid in our program is probably J’Wan Roberts,” Sampson said. “He’s a position-less kid.”

Roberts always found a way to stand out in practices this past season, Sampson said.

“Last year I was focusing more on the kids we were playing so I didn’t really focus on J’Wan that much,” Sampson said. “But when we played 5-on-5 for some reason J’Wan would always get in my eyesight. I’d always see (him) … He’s just always where the ball is.”

Sampson believes the lengthy lefty’s athleticism will make a huge impact for the Cougars in the upcoming season.

“I think J’Wan is one of those kids that will find a way to make me play him,” Sampson said. “And I like players like that because they usually have the right attitude and the right work ethic and that’s the way I would describe J’Wan.”

With the futures of guards DeJon Jarreau and Nate Hinton uncertain as they both declared for the NBA Draft, Houston has plenty of ammunition left in its arsenal as it looks to win another AAC championship and make a push for a national championship.

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