Men's Basketball Sports

Kelvin Sampson’s stance on freshman is clear: “Let them fail”

Kelvin Sampson talks with freshman Jarace Walker during UH's season opener against Northern Colorado. | Sean Thomas/The Cougar

Kelvin Sampson talks with freshman Jarace Walker during UH’s season opener against Northern Colorado. | Sean Thomas/The Cougar

On a night when UH’s three freshman played a combined 53 minutes, 34 seconds and committed eight turnovers, Kelvin Sampson’s message was clear — his freshman are playing exactly like they are supposed to be.

Throw away how many stars a kid has next to his name coming out of high school. Toss the built-up expectations in the media about a projected NBA lottery pick in the trash. 

According to Sampson, none of these things matter because they aren’t an accurate description of where a player currently stands

“It comes down to theory versus reality,” Sampson said. “In theory, this guy’s better because he’s rated higher. Well who rated him? Who said so? But you read it, so now you’re repeating what somebody said. Let’s research the guy that rated him. What does he know?”

Take Jarace Walker, the highest-rated recruit in the modern era in UH program’s history. From the outside, the 6-foot-8-inch freshman’s 9.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per game are a bit of a letdown for a projected lottery pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. 

Not to Sampson, who knew exactly what he was getting when Walker committed to UH.

“He’s exactly what I thought he’d be. He is a freshman,” Sampson said. “If Jarace Walker was to stay here three years, when he came out he would be a monster. Because he would be two years older than he is now. He’d have 30-something games this year, 30-something games next year and then he’s looking at his third year.”

Terrance Arceneaux, the four-star guard out of Beaumont, is another example Sampson brought up.

After Arceneaux burst onto the scene nationally for his 15-point performance in the Cougars’ win against Oregon, the freshman guard has scored a total of 14 points while committing eight turnovers over UH’s next five games.

This doesn’t surprise Sampson either.

“Oregon didn’t guard him. They played a zone. There was nobody within 10 feet of him on every shot he took,” Sampson said. “Now (North Carolina A&T) guarded him tonight and look what he did, he turned it over four times.”

These mistakes don’t enrage Sampson. In fact, the veteran coach encourages young players like Arceneaux to fail early and often.

“The more mistakes he makes, the better it is for him,” Sampson said. “Go ahead and get them out.”

One of Sampson’s favorite mantras is “failure is the first step on the ladder to success.” Being a freshman is all about failing to Sampson.

“I look around at the country at all these freshmen. I wish I could consult with their families and tell them to leave them alone,” Sampson said. “Let them fail. Let them get through their adversity. Don’t try to save them or help them. Let them have it. It’s good for them. 

“There’s so many parachutes out there,” Sampson added. “Sometimes you don’t need the parachute. They’re going to fail at some point. I think the earlier the better.”

There’s a reason why Kansas won the 2022 national title. Baylor lifted the trophy the year before for the same reason while Kentucky and Duke, who had the top two recruiting classes coming in entering the 2020-21 season, didn’t even make the NCAA Tournament.

It’s the veteran teams that win championships

“The older you are in basketball, the better,” Sampson said. “If I was in the last year of my contract and I had to start five Terrance’s, I would get the for sale sign up cause I would get fired.”

As Sampson wrapped up his 10-minute lecture following UH’s win over North Carolina A&T, his point was clear — let freshmen be freshmen and don’t overreact to the way they play, whether good or bad.

There are going to be a lot of failures early on but that has been what has made UH so successful in recent years, Sampson believes.

For Sampson, it’s the failures now that leads to the growth and development of great players that are key to the Cougars’ success down the road.

“What they’re going through now is failure,” Sampson said. “So don’t be disappointed in them. Don’t act like they did something wrong. They didn’t do anything wrong. They’re 19 years old.”

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