How a night in Taiwan helped Kelvin Sampson bring Fabian White to UH
One night out in a bar in Taipei, Taiwan, years ago, Kelvin Sampson listened to Jerry West and Don Nelson talk about the game of basketball.
During that time, Sampson heard the two discuss various topics. There are two, however, that still stick with Sampson during his team’s run in the NCAA Tournament in 2021.
The first was when West described how when he was with the Los Angeles Lakers, he used to put players brought in for NBA Draft workouts in a three-on-one fastbreak drill.
The purpose was to see their decision-making. For those that did well, West could see they understood how to play the game. For those that didn’t, the opposite.
There was also another philosophy that has stayed with Sampson from that night:
“Good shooters, are usually good free-throw shooters, and bad free-throw shooters, are usually bad shooters. Little things like that, usually stuck with me over the years,” Sampson told reporters on Saturday morning in a Zoom call from Indianapolis.
It was that same philosophy, that the now Houston head coach used when evaluating forward Fabian White Jr. coming out of high school.
Kelvin Sampson evaluation
As a player at Atascocita, White spent a good majority of his time with the Eagles playing alongside Carsen Edwards, who ended up being a four-star recruit coming out of high school and was eventually drafted by the Boston Celtics in 2019.
Playing with Edwards limited White’s touches. He wasn’t a primary offensive weapon for Atascocita. He was strictly an around-the-rim type of guy as White described it.
“(White) didn’t shoot jump shots in high school,” Sampson said. “He was a dunker, a rebounder, a runner, a center. When I say a five (center), I mean a five-six (he didn’t shoot at all). He wasn’t a four-five (that can step out and shoot outside the paint). He was a five.”
For Sampson, however, he was able to apply the philosophy he picked up from West and Nelson on that night to see the potential in the forward.
When White shot his free throws, Sampson evaluated his form.
“I projected him as a face-up guy,” Sampson said. “Some guys have an 80 percent release and some guys have a 40 percent release. Those 80 percent release guys that are shooting 65 percent, they are going to get better. You can develop that … If a guy can be an 80 percent free-throw shooter that means he can shoot.”
Once White arrived at the UH program, the coaching staff began to develop his jump shot. It got to a point where the 6-foot-8-inch forward was comfortable shooting the mid-range jumper. For him, it was automatic.
After last season ended, however, Sampson felt White’s range needed to extend out to the 3-point line to be even better.
While the torn ACL injury last May threw an extra wrinkle in that plan, White was still able to work through that and expand his offensive arsenal as he battled through his rehab.
Now, Sampson believes that his forward is at a point where he can cause a lot of damage for opposing teams from behind the arc, in certain situations.
“He is coming. He is not a slot 3-point shooter, but he is a corner 3-point shooter,” Sampson said.
Similar to White, senior forward Justin Gorham also saw his range expand to outside of the 3-point line.
For Sampson, not only does he feel it is the program’s responsibility to put his players in the best position to go pro at basketball if that is their desire, but adding versatility to his players’ game also adds an extra sense of trust in themselves.
“It’s like when you’re walking into a fight and you have something in your pocket to take care of yourself,” Sampson said. “There is a confidence there. When you can shoot the basketball, (and) you have confidence that when it rolls off your fingers it is going to go in, it gives you a swagger that you can’t teach.”
Now in the middle of his third straight NCAA Tournament run, Sampson is in a position where his trust in his evaluation is giving him rewards.
After senior guard DeJon Jarreau left Friday’s round of 64 matchup against Cleveland State with a hip injury, the Cougars struggled to find their offense for a stretch until White stepped up and provided a scoring flurry.
He scored eight first-half points, which included six straight at a point where UH only held a two-point lead over the Vikings.
It is the trust, established by Sampson that has rallied his players and created a strong bond with each other and the program’s culture.
White worked hard to come back and play this season. He wanted to help the Cougars make a run at a national championship.
“It’s everything coach Kelvin Sampson talked about while he was recruiting me,” White said. “It’s just a blessing to see all of it unfold really.”
For more on The Cougar’s coverage of UH’s run in the NCAA Tournament, click here.