Conquering the third lap: How Marcus Sasser has taken the next step as both a player and leader
Throughout the 2019-20 season, the Cougars relied on their pair of dynamic freshman guards, and one of those guys was Marcus Sasser.
Sasser, a Red Oak native, began the season coming off the bench and provided the Cougars with instant offense whenever he entered the game.
Because of his production off the bench, Sasser was moved into the starting lineup midway through the season and ended up starting in each of the Cougars’ final 15 games of the season.
Despite a successful freshman campaign in which the 6-foot-1-inch guard averaged 8.1 points and shot 35.2 percent from 3-point range, things started off rough for Sasser in his first few months with the program as he was met with a rude awakening of what it took to be a Division I basketball player.
“Just the speed of the game was a big difference coming out of high school and learning how to play the Cougar way, playing hard with intensity the whole game,” said Sasser on his biggest challenges adapting to playing on the next level.
But learning to adjust to the speed of the college game starts with being ready physically, which is why the Cougars focus on conditioning and getting the team in shape before they do anything basketball related.
For newcomers to the UH basketball program, conditioning proves to be one of the toughest challenges they face because they are pushed to levels of pain and discomfort that they never experienced in high school.
This proved to be the case for Sasser.
“September and October (of 2019) were difficult for Marcus,” head coach Kelvin Sampson told reporters during a Zoom news conference. “He really struggled.”
“We talk to our guys about the three different pain levels. We describe what each one’s going to feel like. Well, Marcus got to the first one and ran home and got under the bed.”
One of the ways the Cougars get in shape for the season is by running a mile every Friday.
Sampson uses the mile run as an indicator to see what his players are made of, specifically focusing on how guys handle the third lap because he believes that lap is the most difficult to get through.
“There are four laps in the mile,” Sampson said. “That third lap is an attitude and effort lap. I can tell about a kid’s attitude by the third lap.”
For Sasser, that third lap was a huge barrier and something he struggled to push through during his first semester as a Cougar.
“Marcus didn’t handle that third lap very well,” Sampson said. “The first time he ran it I don’t think he realized the mile was four laps. He got to lap two and said, ‘we got two more?'”
But despite experiencing pain on a whole different spectrum and struggling to push through all the conditioning, Sasser stuck with it and developed a new mentality that allowed him to finally conquer his biggest barrier, pushing through the third lap, during the beginning of 2020.
This change in mindset was evident to all the coaches as they started to see a difference in Sasser.
“I could see a difference in Marcus second semester once he conquered the third lap,” Sampson said. “He’s got a different mentality.”
Conquering that third lap changed everything for Sasser as he not only became a better player but began to emerge as a leader on the team.
One way Sasser exhibits leadership is by always the first guy on the floor diving after loose balls in practice and not because he’s afraid of getting yelled at, but because he is going all out to get the ball, which is something Sampson adores because he is a strong believer in actions speaking louder than words.
“There’s a lot of guys who get on the floor, but they get on the floor cause they don’t want me hollering at them,” Sampson said. “Marcus gets on the floor to get the ball and that’s leadership. He doesn’t have to say anything.”
Sasser’s leadership will be key to the Cougars success since he will serve as one of Houston’s primary point guards since they lost their starting point guard Nate Hinton, who is currently preparing for the upcoming NBA Draft.
As he takes on bigger responsibility and a larger role within the team as the point guard, Sasser has been focusing on becoming a consistent player who can run the offense and create opportunities for his teammates.
“Being more consistent,” Sasser said when talking about what he needs improve upon with being a point guard. “Being a better point of attack and just getting my teammates involved more this year.”
But Sasser knows that being successful on the court starts with the work he puts in when no one’s watching, which is why he attacks every day with the same mindset he used to conquer his early struggles freshman year and sees every day opportunity to get better and grow.
“Working hard every day in practice. Proving myself in practice,” Sasser said on his goals for the upcoming season. “That’s just what I’m trying to do this year.”