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UH men’s basketball freshmen following in veterans’ footsteps

Many NBA Draft experts have projected UH freshman forward Jarace Walker to be a lottery pick in the 2023 draft. | Sean Thomas/The Cougar

Many NBA draft experts have projected UH freshman forward Jarace Walker to be a lottery pick in the 2023 draft. | Sean Thomas/The Cougar

Alongside a core of six veterans from the UH men’s basketball 2021 Final Four team, a highly-touted group of freshmen brings lofty expectations for a Cougars’ team looking to make history in the 2022-23 season.

While UH head coach Kelvin Sampson is confident in his team, he knows it won’t be a seamless transition for a freshman class that boasts two four-star recruits in guard Emanuel Sharp and forward Terrance Arceneaux along with five-star forward Jarace Walker, the nation’s 11th ranked recruit in 2022.

“We’ve got a lot of winners on this team, but you’ve just got to wait for the freshmen to catch up,” Sampson said. “I don’t care how good the freshmen are, they get their doors blown out for two or three weeks. You just have to stay patient, keep working at it and eventually they’re going to have their ‘Aha’ moment.”

With over 35 years of coaching experience, Sampson understands and accepts that there may be early growing pains for the AP preseason No. 3 team and its younger additions as they look to find their fit.

Sampson pointed to the Cougars’ early losses last year as reasons to not be concerned about any possible bumps in the road.

“We lost two games last year before Christmas,” Sampson said. “Against Wisconsin, in the first half, we weren’t very good, but we were great in the second half. Against Alabama, we couldn’t make a free throw, but we rebounded it well so I could see where we were starting to figure out what we were doing.”

One of the team’s leaders, junior point guard Jamal Shead, recognizes the potential boost this freshman class can bring to an already successful UH squad.

“They’re really, really talented. They’re a lot more talented than my freshman class … and we were a talented class. This group’s really different.” Shead said. “Right now they’re just going through their freshman growing pains.”

Sampson recognizes the importance of the team leaders’ ability to guide the team in the right direction.

Much of this responsibility has fallen upon star senior guard Marcus Sasser.

“Marcus is our best player,” Sampson said. “And our best player never has a bad practice. Marcus is so mature about doing things, and he’s a winner.”

When it comes to the freshmen, Sasser has made it a point early on to help them get on the same page with the veteran core.

“Every day we’re trying to push them to get used to the culture,” Sasser said. “So when we go out there as a group together, and they’re playing with the veterans, you know they’re playing on the same level as us.”

Even then, it isn’t always easy getting used to the intense and competitive environment Sampson has created at UH.

Sasser takes it upon himself at times to keep the freshmen’s heads up as they continue to integrate themselves into the program’s culture.

“When it hasn’t been their days really, you know, and things are going bad for them and they’re going through adversity, it’s just me telling them that I’ve been through that and basically just giving them a positive when they think they’re down, ” Sasser said.”

Another one of the team’s leaders, redshirt junior forward J’Wan Roberts, sets an example for the younger guys with his attitude and effort each practice, showing them what it takes to play college basketball.

“Just going hard at them every day, it makes them get a taste of what college basketball is about, (while also) still helping them during the course,” Roberts said. “Sometimes when we’re playing, I’ll tell them what to do at certain times, call certain plays for them, or call certain calls for them. Make sure they get it right. Tell them where to go. It’s a long process, and I’m just here to help them.”

As the freshmen grow more comfortable in their roles throughout the season, the leadership of UH’s veterans will play a huge role in their development into impacting winning on the court.

“I’m just learning from the veterans like Marcus and Jamal and them,” Arceneaux said. “And hopefully I just continue to grow and continue to get better with my game.”

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