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Thursday, October 28, 2021

Men's Basketball

Kelvin Sampson, staff’s primary focus on his players’ health


Kelvin Sampson watches his team from the bench | Courtesy of UH athletics

Kelvin Sampson watches his team from the bench. | Courtesy of UH athletics

Traditionally, college basketball programs have been judged by their win-loss record, but 2020 has drastically shifted the primary focus for Kelvin Sampson and the Houston program.

While the Cougars have been successful on the court, being ranked in the AP Top 5 for the first time since 1984, Sampson’s primary focus has not been on how his team performs on the court.

“Winning is secondary right now,” Sampson told reporters on a Zoom conference call Thursday morning. “Coaching basketball is kind of just part of it right now. It used to be that it was it. It’s all you focused on.”

UH has had to deal with its own COVID-19 issues, as all 15 players in the program have tested positive for COVID-19 at some point since the summer, which means they have been forced to isolate and go through a 10-day quarantine period at least once.

This quarantine period can be physically and mentally draining, which is why Sampson made it a priority to check in with his players to make sure they remain mentally healthy while in isolation.

“When a kid’s in quarantine, I don’t text him. I call him,” Sampson. “I talk to him just about every day.”

But just how secondary has basketball become this season?

Each day, Sampson meets with John Houston, the team’s head athletic trainer, to get COVID-19 updates as well as recommendations regarding how much workload they should put on specific players through in practice to ensure they do not overwork them, especially those that are just returning from COVID-19.

Florida’s Keyontae Johnson brought the importance of student-athletes’ health to the forefront amid the pandemic after he collapsed on the court against Florida State in early December.

It was later revealed that Johnson had been diagnosed with acute myocarditis, which involves the inflammation of the heart muscle and has been linked to COVID-19.

Johnson’s incident rattled everyone in the sports world, Sampson said, because it brought to reality that this could happen to anyone. It was a sobering reminder that student-athletes are not immune.

“When (Johnson) went down, it just brings back into focus how precious these kids’ lives are,” Sampson said, “and how important what we’re doing is to their parents.”

Sampson and his staff are doing everything they can to not only keep everyone in the program safe and healthy, but make sure to be in constant communication with each players’ families.

Sampson said he has had “real conversations” with his players’ parents about the steps being taken and  the protocols being put in place to ensure the health and safety of their kids.

While 2020 has brought much more important things than basketball to the forefront of Sampson’s mind, he hopes that his team has used this unprecedented year to learn important life lessons that they can take with them well beyond the time they leave UH.

“Our kids are in a critical part of their lives. And more so than any era or any team that I’ve coached,” Sampson said. “For all the challenges and problems (2020) created, there was also so many opportunities to grow and learn. And I hope that we all took advantage of them.”

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