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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Men's Basketball

Sampson believes UH’s early season struggles are necessary for success


Kelvin Sampson said forward J'Wan Roberts, who flirted with a double-double on Tuesday night pulling down 15 boards to go along with eight points, was the reason UH defeated Hofstra in its season-opener. | James Schillinger/The Cougar

Kelvin Sampson said forward J’Wan Roberts, who flirted with a double-double on Tuesday night pulling down 15 boards to go along with eight points, was the reason UH defeated Hofstra in its season-opener. | James Schillinger/The Cougar

Kelvin Sampson said this year’s Houston men’s basketball team was nowhere near where 2020-21 Final Four team was at this point last season— and it showed as soon as the ball was tipped on Tuesday in the Cougars’ season-opener against Hofstra.

Rebounding, which UH has been among the best in the country for, was lacking. Just minutes into the game, Hofstra was out-rebounding the Cougars’ 6-0, including four offensive boards.

On top of that, the Cougars had defensive lapses, sloppy turnovers and missed plenty of point-blank layups.

While it was tough to watch at the moment, after the game Sampson had a unique appreciation for the struggles his team went through in the season-opening win.

“First of all, I’m thankful to win but I’m also thankful we struggled,” Sampson said. “Good game for us all the way around. The struggles were good. Not making free throws. Missing point blank-blank putbacks (were all good). … In a lot of ways it was encouraging and it’s going to be great film study and a lot of great teaching moments from tonight.”

Sampson was thankful UH opened the season with a quality opponent like Hofstra, because Sampson knew that if the Cougars played a so-called bad opponent and blew them out then the team would perceive themselves as much better than they actually are at the moment.

Sampson knew the growing pains that the UH men’s basketball team displayed on Tuesday night are necessary in order to meld together a championship-level team.

In Sampson’s eyes, without these struggles, his team won’t go very far.

“This team is going to be allowed to grow,” Sampson said. “The thing about growth is you grow by mistakes. You got to make mistakes. The first step on the ladder to success will always be failure.”

Even with poor execution for the majority of the game, effort, a staple of the UH men’s basketball program’s culture under Sampson, never lacked.

When the game seemed out of reach, the Cougars showed plenty of heart and grit. According to Sampson, they found an identity in the final six minutes of the second half.

Marcus Sasser, a veteran in the UH program, refused to let the Cougars lay down. The 6-foot-2-inch junior guard never stopped shooting, despite early struggles hitting big shots down the stretch.

J’Wan Roberts provided a huge spark for UH down low, pulling down offensive rebound after offensive rebound to create second scoring chances for the Cougars.

While Roberts started the game on the bench, the 6-foot-7-inch sophomore was on the floor down the stretch when it mattered most. Sampson called Roberts the toughest guy on the floor and the reason UH was able to pull off the comeback victory.

All in all, Tuesday night showed that while the names and faces on the UH roster change every year, one thing is consistent— the Cougar culture is built for winning.

“Coming back from (down 13) with this new group, that shows that we have a lot of heart,” Sasser said. “It just shows the new guys the culture is real. If you follow the culture, you’ll win.”

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