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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Men's Basketball

Thick as blood: Inside the UH men’s basketball coaching staff’s tight bond


Kelvin and Kellen Sampson are the faces of a UH coaching staff that has statistically done one of the best jobs in turning a program around and into national contenders over the past decade. | Courtesy of UH athletics

Kelvin and Kellen Sampson are the faces of a UH coaching staff that has statistically done one of the best jobs in turning a program around and into national contenders over the past decade. | Courtesy of UH athletics

One of the first words every college athletics program uses to describe themselves is “family”, but it’s hard to find a program that better exemplifies a true family atmosphere than the Houston men’s basketball team under Kelvin Sampson.

Anyone who has ever been a part of the Cougar program will say there is something different about UH that makes it unlike anything else they’ve ever experienced.

And it all starts with the coaching staff.

Sampson family

What makes the UH coaching staff so unique stems from the fact it starts from a bond within a bigger union — the Sampson family.

Kelvin, with his vast relationships with some of basketball’s brightest minds, could have chosen anyone he wanted to help him build the UH program, but he decided to stay within his own bloodline — hiring his son Kellen as an assistant coach and daughter Lauren as the program’s director of external operations.

Having the Sampsons lay the groundwork for a UH program whose cornerstone is family was just what the Cougars needed to rise back into national relevancy

Adopted family

On top of that, the Sampsons added members of their adopted family to the coaching staff, with Kelvin hiring two of his former players from his time at Oklahoma, Hollis Price and Quannas White, to walk alongside him, helping carry out the vision for UH basketball.

“Just look at the dynamics of our staff,” Kellen said. “Obviously, it starts with Coach Sampson but I’m his son. When we were building this he trusted me to really help him build this. Then we hired two of his former players in Hollis Price and Quannas White.”

“Those are guys I’ve known for 25 years. They’re like brothers to me. My sister’s on staff,” Kellen continued. “When we say family, it starts here on the third floor in the (Guy V. Lewis Development Center) where our coaches’ offices are and we try to let that energy bleed over to our guys.”

Anthony Goldwire, who played at UH from 1992-94, was recently named the program’s director of player development and immediately noticed how tight the UH coaching staff is when he first walked into the Guy V. Lewis Development Center.

“First of all, it’s about family,” Goldwire said. “When I first walked in you see (Kelvin) Sampson, his daughter, his son. You got Hollis and Quannas. All these are close-niched guys that he’s been around.”

K.C. Beard was recently promoted to an assistant coach after spending the past seven years as the Cougars’ video coordinator. A relationship with Kelvin really took off through an act that is a staple in every family — sharing a home-cooked meal.

Beard was serving as Canada’s men’s basketball national team video guy while Kelvin was the team’s lead assistant. After the first scrimmage against Jamaica, Beard was grinding away preparing film from the scrimmage while the rest of the team had a get-together.

But, that didn’t stop Beard from receiving the classic Sampson hospitality as Kelvin’s wife, Karen, brought over a plate of food to Beard and Kelvin sat down to chat with Beard.

It was at that moment Beard knew there was something special about the Sampsons, especially the way Kelvin ran things.

Seven years later, Beard is still by Kelvin’s side and has a front-row seat to see how Kelvin gets the most out of everyone in the program every day.

“(Sampson’s) ability to get the best out of people is truly a gift and he does it with his staff as well,” Beard said. 

Kelvin has gone out of his way to build personal relationships with each member of his staff. He painted a picture of how tight that bond is when discussing the recent promotions of Beard, as well as Price, who was just named special assistant to the head coach.

“Hollis and K.C., those guys would take a bullet for me and I’d take a bullet for them,” Kelvin said. “That’s what makes great staffs.”

Family appeal

Recruits also notice how the Cougars’ coaching staff is different from any other and it plays a big role in many of them choosing UH, including Emanuel Sharp, the nation’s No. 8 shooting guard in the class of 2022.

“Just knowing how all the coaches talk to each other (was a big reason I chose UH),” Sharp said. “Sampson told me that (the coaches) have known each other for a while and that means a lot to me.”

The UH coaching staff’s willingness to go to extreme limits for one another has created an environment unlike many others in college sports.

While many athletic programs across the country tend to have a major shuffle amongst their coaching staff every few years, the UH men’s basketball program’s staff has stayed relatively the same since Kelvin took over in 2014.

With the exception of Goldwire, every other person on the UH men’s basketball staff has been with the program since 2017 or earlier and they all give the same reason for why they have stuck around for so long. 

“When you’re in an opportunity and environment that’s special like UH under coach Sampson, why would you be in a hurry to leave?” Beard said. “Why would you not stay as long as you can?”

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