Men's Basketball Sports

‘It is a war every day’: For Houston, its rebound identity stems from practice

Houston senior forward Brison Gresham battles with Emmanuel Ugboh in the paint for a rebound. | Andy Yanez/The Cougar

Houston senior forward Brison Gresham battles with Emmanuel Ugboh in the paint for a rebound. | Andy Yanez/The Cougar

Just five minutes into its rematch against Tulsa last Wednesday, Houston had already built up a six-point lead and had five offensive boards that had led to seven second-chance points.

By halftime, the Cougars had raised that to 13 offensive rebounds. They ended the game with 54 total rebounds.

For UH, however, that eye-popping mark was not all that special. Instead, it is more of the standard.

“Everybody is expected to rebound on this team, even our guards are expected to rebound,” UH head coach Kelvin Sampson told reporters after the Tulsa game.

The Cougars, who currently average 42.5 rebounds per game, sit sixth overall in rebounds per game, are eighth in the NCAA in rebound margin and currently lead the NCAA in offensive rebounds per game.

“We aren’t really a first shot team, but if we’re going to miss, we’re going to make sure we get that rebound,” redshirt freshman forward J’Wan Roberts said.

The Cougars grabbed 25 offensive boards in the dominant showing versus the Golden Hurricane, which turned into 24 second-chance points. UH is currently first in the NCAA in offensive rebound percentage.

“My motive is (to) get rebounds, that’s what gets me going,” Roberts said.

Bubble wars

The motivation to crash the glass after each shot for UH derives from the instilled values that Sampson implements in his practices, one of which is the infamous bubble drill.

The drill involves a lid, or bubble, that goes on top of the rim and guarantees that no shot will go in. What it means for the UH players is that they must compete against each other to secure the most rebounds. 

As Sampson said, this is an expectation for everyone on the roster. From the smallest guard to the tallest center. And once that bubble goes on the rim, it becomes a no holds barred battle.

“It is a war every day. When that bubble goes on the rim, there really is no rules,” senior forward Justin Gorham said.

“I feel like that is what helps us. That is what helps us be physical in the games because in practice there are no rules, so you got to be physical to get rebounds. If you don’t get a rebound, you’re on the line running,” Gorham added.

The drill essentially emphasizes the focus on rebounding, and it pushes players to get after each and every single one.

“Either you are going to stick your nose and try to get it, or you’re going to run some type of sprint. Nobody wants to run a shuttle, so we all go in there, going hard at each other and diving on the floor, running over each other,” senior guard DeJon Jarreau said.

The drill, however, is not the secret to the Cougars’ success on the boards. A big part of it has to do with it just being a part of UH’s identity. 

Not the rebounding, but the tenacity and competitiveness that is required to chase after the loose balls instead.

“It’s crazy, even without the bubble, when we are just out there practicing, we are crashing the glass,” Gorham said. “(We) emphasize that in practice every day. It is a war every day.”

Of course, there are other incentives for crashing the boards too in practice besides just not wanting to run sprints.

At the end of the drill, the rebounding leader gets to sign the bubble, and the player with the most signatures at the end of the season is able to take it home.

“Everyone wants a chance to sign that bubble,” Roberts said. “I’m trying to take that bubble home.”

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