‘Groundbreakers’: UH seniors will leave mark on program for years to come
When Houston’s season came to an end on the Lucas Oil Stadium court after its Final Four loss to Baylor, so did the collegiate careers of seniors DeJon Jarreau, Justin Gorham and Brison Gresham.
While the three will move on with their lives and step away from the Cougars’ program as players, their impact on the team will be felt for years to come and is what head coach Kelvin Sampson will remember about the 2020-21 UH team as time goes on.
“Those guys and the leadership they showed for the younger guys,” Sampson said is what stood out to him the most. “The teams before this team were trailblazers. Rob Gray’s team was a trailblazer … We’ve had teams that were trailblazers and now we had a team that was groundbreakers.”
From Jarreau’s maturity and leadership, to Gresham’s attitude and versatility when it came to the roles the team needed him to have, to Gorham becoming one of the best offensive rebounders in the country and best players at his position, that is how they left their impact, Sampson said.
This year’s batch of seniors’ influence, however, extended far beyond the hardwood. Jarreau grew into his leadership role, and once he fully embraced it, he passed down lessons to the younger guards like freshman Tramon Mark, who he roomed with during road games in the regular season.
Gorham and Gresham had a similar impact on the younger forwards on the team too.
“I’ve (learned) a lot (from the seniors),” freshman center Kiyron Powell said during UH’s NCAA Tournament run. “Coming in, I thought I was going to be able to do something automatically, but it was a whole different experience and they took me under their wing.
“They showed me like, ‘hey, this is something like you’ve never seen before. This is what you got to do to play at this level,’” Powell added. “Those three (Gorham, Gresham and Fabian White) have been unbelievable for me and my game.”
In 2021-22, UH will likely be led by White, who will use the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA, and guard Marcus Sasser, who will have been the longest-tenured players with the team that have played significant minutes.
Of course, the biggest question mark is with junior guard Quentin Grimes and what he chooses to do.
After Saturday’s loss, an emotional UH locker room digested the end of the season. One of the reasons the team was so invested in each other had to do with the culture that was created by the seniors.
“They led us and they taught us a lot for the upcoming years for the young guys,” Sasser said.
The 2020-21 Cougars got back to the Final Four after 37 years. How long it takes them to return to that grand stage, no one knows, but one thing Sampson and the returning players will have to chase is the new benchmark that was put in place by this season’s team.
“The perception of our program has changed,” Sampson said.
“Our program has changed. I can’t wait to play in front of sellouts next year. This is going to be exciting, but this team will never be forgotten. They broke the ground. They showed it can be done. And now it’s up to these ensuing teams to stake their ground too. Looking forward to it.”
For more on The Cougar’s coverage of UH’s run in the NCAA Tournament, click here.