Men's Basketball Sports

For Kelvin Sampson, UH’s season won’t be defined by NCAA Tournament result

Kelvin Sampson has led UH to its fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance where the Cougars are the No. 5 seed in the South Region. | Sean Thomas/The Cougar

Kelvin Sampson has led UH to its fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance where the Cougars are the No. 5 seed in the South Region. | Sean Thomas/The Cougar

It starts with exhilarating joy that comes from earning one of 68 spots in one of the most widespread tournaments in college sports. For 67 teams, it ends in agonizing pain, crushed hearts and tears, knowing that the road has come to an end.

This is what the NCAA Tournament is, plain and simple.

You could be the best team in college basketball from November to early March, but suddenly your walls crumble in just 2,400 seconds.

Just ask Virginia, the top overall seed in the 2018 tournament with a 31-2 regular-season record. After dominating its competition all season, the Cavaliers didn’t even make it out of the first round in the Big Dance, falling in arguably the biggest shock in NCAA Tournament history to UMBC — becoming the first No. 1 seed ever to lose to a No. 16 seed.

Or look to 15 seed Lehigh knocking off college basketball blue blood Duke in the 2012 tournament.

Or most recently, No. 15 seed St. Peter’s shocking No. 2 seed Kentucky, a team many thought would reach the Final Four.

The list goes on and on.

The bottom line is chaos is the norm in the NCAA Tournament. It’s called March Madness for a reason.

UH head coach Kelvin Sampson knows this all too well, understanding that one bad day sends a team packing its bags to return home.

“It’s 40 minutes of win or go home,” Sampson said. “It’s not a seven-game series … This is a one-game season. If we play good, we got a chance. If we don’t our season’s over. It’s as simple as that.”

With the stakes being so high, people on the outside typically judge the overall success of a team’s season by what it does in the Big Dance. But Sampson will refuse to let what UH does in the tournament define the season because he does not define his team’s success based on what it does in March.

“Whenever we lose, and there’s a good chance we will, I will not allow our kids to be disappointed in what they accomplished since June,” Sampson said. “We don’t define our season on 40 minutes. Other people will but they’ve never played. They have no idea.”

Only one team will be left standing come the first Monday night in April. For the other 67 teams, tears will stream down players’ faces knowing that their road in the NCAA Tournament has come to an end — and there’s a good chance UH will be among one of these 67 teams.

Regardless, Sampson knows much more goes into the season than what the fans see on the court.

For Sampson, it’s the journey, not the end result, that he values most.

It’s the team waking up for early morning lifts and runs in the Houston heat starting in June. It’s the way UH has adjusted its playing style and unsung guys stepping up to fill big roles after the loss of two of its best players in December. It’s the brother-like bonds that the players’ have built with each other.

The 2021-22 Cougars have had poured everything they have to get to this point, so win or lose in March, Sampson believes everything the team has gone through should not be taken for granted. The 66-year old veteran coach wants his players to feel proud of all they’ve overcome and accomplished when UH’s dance comes to an end, whenever that is.

“So whenever that horn blows and the music stops and they tell us that we can’t play anymore, everybody will be sad,” Sampson said. “But eventually they’ll go on and realize what a great accomplishment it was to play in March Madness. Something they’ll never forget for the rest of their lives.”

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