Men's Basketball Sports

‘He ain’t no pretty boy’: Justin Gorham, the embodiment of UH’s identity

UH forward Justin Gorham in a game against the Memphis Tigers during the 2019-20 season at the FedEx Forum. | Kathryn Lenihan/The Cougar

UH men’s basketball forward Justin Gorham in a game against the Memphis Tigers during the 2019-20 season at the FedEx Forum. | Kathryn Lenihan/The Cougar

During the midway point of the second half in Tuesday’s game at Fertitta Center when No. 6 Houston hosted Temple, UH senior forward Justin Gorham and Owls’ guard Damiam Dunn got into a skirmish.

The Cougars were in the midst of an 11-0 run, and the Owls had just fallen behind by 25 points. As the players chirped for a bit during a timeout, UH head coach Kelvin Sampson had one thought, go get Gorham off the court.

“The first one I grabbed was Justin Gorham,” Sampson told reporters after the game on a Zoom conference call. “He won’t back down from anybody.”

The small altercation on Tuesday was an example of Gorham’s tenacity, his personality.

In a way, it’s the way it has to be for Gorham. He has to have a strong personality in order to thrive for the Cougars. 

The UH men’s basketball team is known for dominating its opponents on both the defensive side of the ball and on the glass, and in its 76-50 win on Tuesday, that was no different. However, in order for the program to maintain this culture, it needs to have strong personality-filled players, and Gorham fits that mold.

“He’s a tough kid,” Sampson said. “Obviously, he’s never rebounded at this level, but he’s never had it shoved down his throat like he does every day either.”

For a team that has made rebounding a part of its identity, it sometimes gets lost how difficult securing boards night in and night out is. 

It is something even NBA teams struggle with at times but for the Cougars, they have been able to keep doing it at a high level, and the head coach has labeled Gorham as the identity player for the team.

“Rebounding is not for everybody,” Sampson said. “Some guys would rather stand out and look like a tuxedo. Pretty on the outside, but not very tough on the inside. Justin, he ain’t no pretty boy.”

For the second straight game, Gorham proved he is willing to get his hands dirty. He finished with double-digit rebounds (12), seven of which were on offense, for the second straight game after garnering 16 against Alcorn State. 

“I like rebounding,” Gorham said. “You just got to play with that swagger. It’s always good to play with swagger. Swagger that no one can keep you off the offensive boards.”

After an offseason that saw the Cougars lose their top three rebounders in Nate Hinton, Fabian White Jr. and Chris Harris Jr., Gorham has been crucial in filling those voids, and he has excelled at that six games in. 

He is averaging 7.6 rebounds, which is second on the team, narrowly behind junior guard Quentin Grimes.

When Sampson’s comments about Gorham’s toughness were brought up to him after the game, the forward double-downed on his head coach’s assessment.

“I just want to be a competitor,” Gorham said. “Tough is a perfect word. That’s what I want to be. I want to play tough.”

While Gorham secures rebounds for the Cougars as if the ball were a magnet, he also continues to battle in games and in practices.

It is who Gorham is, and it is something that is contagious to the other forwards on the roster like J’Wan Roberts and Reggie Chaney.

For a player that was new to the program just a season ago, Gorham has embraced UH’s culture and is now tasked with passing it along. 

“You can’t be soft on the court because when you watch us, we play physical,” Gorham said. “If you’re the soft one, you’re going to see who that one is and I don’t want to be the soft one.”

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