Following Marcus Sasser’s announcement that he will return to UH for his senior season, head coach Kelvin Sampson met with the media on Thursday morning to discuss Sasser’s return along with where the program stands heading into summer workouts.
Below are some of the key things Sampson talked about:
Sampson called Sasser UH’s linchpin and is excited to have his star guard back not only for what he brings on the court but because of his work ethic and the respect he has from his teammates.
“Marcus has so much respect from his teammates,” Sampson said. “People naturally follow him because they respect him so much … The reason why I’m so excited about this team is our best players are our hardest workers, namely Marcus.”
Sampson called Sasser a “developing player” and believes going through the NBA Draft process and working out for several teams provided a major boost to the 6-foot-2-inch guard’s confidence heading into his senior season.
“Marcus came back cause he thinks he’s in a program where he can continue to develop,” Sampson said. “He loves the coaching staff, he loves his teammates and he loves to win.”
Some of the areas Sampson is looking for Sasser to grow in are reading pick-and-rolls and decision-making in the paint.
Sasser will be a full participant in UH’s summer workouts, which begin on June 6.
“I looking forward to getting Marcus out there and get to work,” Sampson said.
Along with Sasser, who missed the majority of the 2021-22 season with a foot injury, being medically cleared to fully participate in all basketball activities, the Cougars had a few other key returnees that dealt with injuries last year.
Guard Tramon Mark, who was a key part of UH’s 2021 Final Four team as a freshman, underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in December that caused him to miss all but seven games as a sophomore. Mark has been medically cleared to return and is expected to be a full participant during the team’s summer workouts.
“Tramon’s looking awesome,” Sampson said. “He’s been (medically) cleared and he’s in the gym wearing the gun out.”
Forward Reggie Chaney dealt with what Sampson said was recently confirmed to be a broken knuckle in his left hand for most of last season. Chaney had two surgeries on his left hand to repair the knuckle as well as underwent a knee scope on Wednesday, due to swelling, which will sideline him for the first three to five weeks of summer. Sampson expects Chaney to be back in July.
With Sasser’s return and the signing of Texas Tech guard Mylik Wilson, the 2022-23 UH roster has filled 12 of its 13 available scholarship spots.
Sampson is comfortable with the guys he has and has no immediate plans to fill the final scholarship spot at the moment but admitted that those plans could change at any point.
“You never say never,” Sampson said. “Depends on what pops up. I don’t have any plans to fill it right now, but that doesn’t mean something may not come up.”
2022-23 non-conference schedule
The Cougars will play 13 non-conference games in the upcoming season, according to Sampson.
Sampson did not delve into any specifics regarding the opponents and dates but said they are getting close to finalizing the non-conference schedule.
Outlook on the team
Returning veterans are always the first thing Sampson looks at when evaluating his team for the first time each year and the leadership and experience in the big moments that the Cougars are returning have stood out the most to the UH head coach.
“I think you judge your team on your veterans you have coming back,” Sampson said. “Jamal (Shead) has been through the wars now (along with) Marcus, Tramon (Mark), Reggie (Chaney) and J’Wan (Roberts). We have five guys that have played some meaningful games, some big-time games in big-time environments.”
Highly anticipated five-star forward Jarace Walker will arrive on campus on Sunday. Sampson also said freshman guard Emanuel Sharp will report to campus sometime over the weekend
While Walker, Sharp and guard Terrance Arceneaux make up a highly talented incoming freshman class, Sampson said they have a lot to learn about the way things are run in the UH program. This is why Sampson views the summer as vital for the newcomers to get their feet wet and develop.
“I’ve never seen a freshman be really good until after he gets his butt beat a few times,” Sampson said.
NIL and recruiting
With the NIL changing the landscape of college sports, especially in recruiting, Sampson said he and his staff’s approach to how they recruit has not changed.
“Some schools are recruiting based on NIL. We’re not” Sampson said. “When you go down that slope, you’re on a roller coaster now with bad brakes and no guardrails. That’s a tough way to make a living.”
Sampson thinks the NIL is an overall positive thing for college basketball and wants his players to take full advantage of it but will not make NIL opportunities at UH a central selling point when recruiting athletes for the Cougars’ future classes.
“My feeling about the NIL has always been that we’re going to take care of our kids when they get here,” Sampson said. “We’re not going to entice them to come (to UH) with NIL. Once they’re here though, we’re going to make sure that those kids have every opportunity to maximize their abilities with NIL.”