Men's Basketball Sports

Quentin Grimes ‘looks and acts like a veteran’ heading into second season at UH, Kelvin Sampson says

Junior guard Quentin Grimes surveying the floor against the Memphis Tigers in March 2020. He averaged 12.1 points and 3.7 rebounds per game in the 2019-20 season. | Mikol Kindle Jr/ The Cougar

Junior guard Quentin Grimes surveying the floor against the Memphis Tigers in March 2020. He averaged 12.1 points and 3.7 rebounds per game in the 2019-20 season. | Mikol Kindle Jr/ The Cougar

The last time the Houston men’s basketball team walked off the court of the Fertitta Center, it had just defeated Memphis and was excited that The American and NCAA tournaments were near. For guard Quentin Grimes, those competitions were a chance to turn heads and build on the strong end he had to the regular season.

“I know how good (Grimes) is,” head coach Kelvin Sampson said after that Tigers game. “Sometimes they have to get out of their own way. When he gets out of his own way and gives himself permission to go be a dominant player he can do it. That’s why his best basketball is so far ahead of him.”

The Cougars and Grimes, however, never got the opportunity to go dancing. Just days later the coronavirus pandemic caused the cancellations of both the AAC and NCAA tournaments, and March Madness was given a different meaning in 2020.

After months of waiting, the team was finally able to return to the training facility for workouts on Monday and held its first offseason team practice together on Friday.

While the coaches wearing masks during the session is a reminder that things are still far from normal, it’s the beginning of what the Cougars hope is a memorable new season, and for Grimes the start of a breakout year.

“This is the first time since high school that Quentin’s been on the same team two years in a row,” Sampson said on Friday morning in a Zoom video call with media. “You think about all the dynamics of leaving high school and going to Kansas and integrating with that team with all those great players and trying to find your niche … that’s not easy to do.”

About a year ago, the 6-foot-5-inch guard arrived at UH in July and was uncertain about multiple things, including whether he would be given a waiver for immediate eligibility by the NCAA.

Once the season began in November, things did not get any easier for the five-star, McDonald’s All-American recruit coming out of high school. 

He had plenty of memorable performances during his first month at UH, like his 32-point, nine-rebound and five-assist game in a win against Rice, but also some tough outings, like the contest against Oklahoma State, in which he went scoreless on 0-of-7 shooting.

When conference play began, Grimes’ inconsistent stretches continued. 

“He was twisting in the wind for a long time, and I mean twisting in the wind,” Sampson said. “Grimes was dealing with emotional baggage, scars. He was confused.”

As the calendar approached February, Grimes began to find a groove. He had a two-week stretch where he scored 14 or more points and shot 50 percent or greater from the floor in four of five games.

“(The) second semester he started accepting himself,” Sampson said. “It’s not always about the team. One of the things you learn in competition is that you have to depend on you a lot … We talk to Quentin a lot about that”.

To end the 2019-20 season, Grimes posted strong outings in the final two games of the campaign, and as the Cougars now return for workouts and early practices, Sampson sees a change in the guard’s mentality. 

“Quentin looks and acts like a veteran now,” he said. “He owns this program. Instead of renting and paying rent every month, he owns it, and that’s how you go from being good to great …

“He’s bought in.”

For the head coach, embracing the culture of Houston’s program is a big key in succeeding for them, and it is not always an easy thing to do.

Like the hurdles that Grimes battled through last season, Sampson pointed out that Galen Robinson Jr. also took a year before he fully bought in.

“Tramon (Mark) is not there, Kiyron (Powell) is not there, but having guys like Caleb (Mills), Marcus (Sasser), DeJon (Jarreau), Brison (Gresham) help, and I can say Quentin (Grimes) now,” Sampson said. “We’ve got a lot of veteran guys that understand what going to war is like with Cougar basketball.”

As for Grimes, his attitude towards Sampson is mutual.

“It’s been tremendous being under Coach Sampson,” Grimes told Fox 26 on Thursday. “He really leads you to be a better basketball player and a better person off the court.”

Despite the uncertainty of the 2020-21 season due to the coronavirus, the expectations for this Houston team are sky-high.

“I think we can be one of the best teams in the country,” Grimes said. “Almost the whole team is back, (and) we have one of, if not the best, guard-oriented team in the country.”

With Grimes all in on the culture, the Cougars will look to benefit from it in more ways beyond the hardwood.

“I just love his body language right now,” Sampson said. “I told him yesterday after his workout. I said the best thing about that workout is that Tramon got to work out with you because you were a great role model for him.”

For more of The Cougar’s coronavirus coverage, click here.

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