At the end of last season when the NCAA and American Athletic Conference tournament were canceled due to the now infamous coronavirus pandemic, the last thing that forward Fabian White Jr. envisioned he would be in 2020-21 is an unofficial coach.
White, who suffered a torn ACL in May, was forced to redshirt his true senior season. He has been unable to physically practice with the rest of his teammates as he recovers.
But it has not stopped him from continuing to play an active role. White provides guidance to the rest of the forwards and centers on the roster, or as both senior frontcourt players Brison Gresham and Justin Gorham said, has become a player-coach that can give specific feedback.
“I think it is almost like boxing, you have that person in the corner telling you stuff,” Gresham told reporters via Zoom.
With White’s footwork and post moves, he can go into detail with his teammates and tell them what they’re doing wrong, which has been beneficial for UH.
“(Fabian White) is still at practice every day,” Gorham said. “He’ll come talk to us when we’re on the court and give us little tips. It’s good to still have Fabian around. It’s good to see him work out and stuff.”
Houston’s frontcourt, which will have big shoes to fill following last season’s team that was No. 3 in rebounds per game in the nation, will look a bit different in 2020-21.
In addition to losing White to injury, Houston also lost Chris Harris Jr., who graduated in May and was the team’s third-leading rebounder a season ago. On top of that, UH also lost its leading rebounder in guard Nate Hinton, who declared for the NBA Draft.
Houston, which has become one of the top-tier college basketball programs in the nation, is expected to overcome those losses, which will not be easy, and will have to be done as an entire team, head coach Kelvin Sampson said.
The main responsibility will fall on Gresham and Gorham, who enter as the seniors in the frontcourt. Both players are looking to showcase improvements from last season.
When it comes to Gorham specifically, his biggest focus entering 2020-21 has been consistency.
A year ago, his minutes were spotty and his shooting from the floor was a struggle, which affected the Columbia, Maryland, native’s mindset.
“I was down on myself some games,” said Gorham, who despite the struggles, credited the coaching staff in helping him maintain trust in himself. “Coach Sampson would always be in my ear (saying) that you can’t lose confidence.”
Now with a new season around the corner, his teammates and coaches have seen a change in Gorham. They believe this newfound confidence will lead to a bigger role on the court, especially with the hole that White leaves on the roster.
“I feel like coach has given (Gorham) a lot of more trust,” junior guard Quentin Grimes said. “I feel like Justin has a lot more trust in himself. He can go out there and if he has the open shot, coach wants him to shoot it.
“He is a big-time bruiser. He can get any rebound that goes around and falls in his area. I feel like he’s gotten more comfortable with what coach wants him to do out there. I feel like he can be a big-time contributor for us.”
Along with Gresham and the new additions like freshmen Kiyron Powell, J’Wan Roberts and Arkansas transfer Reggie Chaney, UH hopes it can fill the roles in the frontcourt and secure the boards.
After all, Houston is motivated to make up for what the players feel was an opportunity that was taken away. This season UH hopes it can showcase its talent in the big tournament.
“It’s unfinished business,” Gorham said.