Men's Basketball Sports

As UH freshman prep for NCAA Tournament, veterans offer advice

UH freshman guard Terrance Arceneaux has averaged four points and 2.6 rebounds in 31 games this season. | Sean Thomas/contributor

UH freshman guard Terrance Arceneaux has averaged four points and 2.6 rebounds in 31 games this season. | Sean Thomas/contributor

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — While the stage is bigger and the lights are brighter, Jamal Shead has a message for his freshmen teammates as Houston, the Midwest’s No. 1 seed, gets ready to begin its NCAA Tournament run — keep it simple.

“Be yourself,” Shead said. “Your best is enough. Shoot when you’re open. Be confident in yourself. Be confident in your work.”

Unlike previous UH teams under Kelvin Sampson, the 2022-23 Cougars have had to rely more on freshmen than ever before.

Jarace Walker, a five-star recruit out of IMG Academy, has started 32 games and played the third most minutes on the team, trailing only Shead and Sasser. Walker is second on the team in points (11.1 ppg) and rebounds (6.6).

Emanuel Sharp and Terrance Arceneaux have become key pieces in the Cougars’ rotation, both averaging around 15 minutes off the bench.

Though technically a sophomore, Sampson considers 6-foot-8-inch forward Ja’Vier Francis a freshman because he only played mop-up minutes last season, 70 in total. This season, Francis has played in all but one game for UH, scoring double-figures in five games and posting three double-doubles.

All four have carved out important roles to UH’s success as the season has progressed. Each will play a role as the Cougars chase after a national championship.

Walker has already proven his ability to come through in the clutch.

On the road at Virginia, ranked No. 2 at the time, the 6-foot-8-inch freshman forward led the Cougars with 17 points.

Down seven at the half when UH hosted Cincinnati, Walker took over, scoring 13 of his career-high 25 points in the second half to propel the Cougars to a comeback victory.

Inside a hectic Fedex Forum, Walker scored 10 points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked two shots in UH’s regular-season finale win over Memphis.

Shead sees no reason why the projected NBA lottery pick won’t continue to produce for the Cougars in the NCAA Tournament.

“If you look at all of our big games, he produces in some type of way,” Shead said. “Whether it’s scoring, rebounding, blocking shots, he’s always producing in all of our biggest games.”

Heading into the biggest moment of his young career, Walker’s roommate and mentor, J’Wan Roberts, told him to just continue to be himself.

“Have fun,” Roberts said. “Don’t try to be Superman and try to impress somebody. Just stay the course.”

Arceneaux has had his moments, scoring 15 points in his first true collegiate road game against Oregon. Most recently, the guard out of Beaumont started in place of an injured Sasser in the American Athletic Conference Tournament championship, scoring nine points in a career-high 35 minutes of action.

But what Sampson likes most about the 6-foot-5-inch freshman guard, is he plays within his boundaries.

Known for his love of analogies, Sampson compared Arceneaux to a baseball player who just looks to hit singles rather than home runs. 

When the home run hitter connects with the ball, it produces a bang. However, the downside of always swinging for the fences is that it also results in a lot of strikeouts.

On the other hand, a player just looking to hit a single isn’t going to provide as much flash but he’s going to put the ball in play regularly. 

In Sampson’s eyes, it is hitting singles that impacts winning.

“He doesn’t try to do anything he’s not capable of,” Sampson said. “He’s pretty solid. He’s got an intangible about him.”

Sharp is best known for his 3-point shooting, knocking down 38 3s this season. While Sharp’s shooting has cooled down over the past month, Sampson has noticed how the freshman guard is making an impact in other areas of the game.

“Emanuel is really playing well,” Sampson said. “Whether it’s (going after) lose balls or taking charges or rebounding or being in the right spot on defense.”

Though Francis’ minutes have declined over the latter half of the season, the forward has had moments throughout the season where he has completely taken over games.

In a tournament where every single possession matters, any minutes Francis gets off the bench will be pivotal to the Cougars’ success.

Amid all the madness March brings, the 67-year-old head coach is looking for one thing from his young players.

And it’s not to be superstars. It’s to be dependable.

“The greatest ability a player can have this time of year is dependability,” Sampson said. “Be dependable.”

[email protected]

Leave a Comment