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Monday, December 11, 2023

Men's Basketball

Kelvin Sampson has No. 7 Cougars ready for the Big 12

Kelvin Sampson’s coaching has brought the Cougars to new heights during his tenure at UH. This year, Sampson and the Cougars will take on a massive challenge in the Big 12. | Anh Le/The Cougar

In the Big 12,  there are no games off. Every game is a battle.

“There’s no game where it’s just ‘Okay, we know we’re going to win this game,'” said senior forward J’Wan Roberts. “Every game is going to be a challenge.”

For the Cougars, they have the talent and the right pieces to not only succeed in the Big 12 but also to compete for a conference title.

This year, expectations for the Houston Cougars continue to rise as they stand at No. 7 in the 2023-2024 AP Preseason Top 25 poll. They are the second-ranked club in the Big 12 Conference going into their inaugural campaign, trailing the No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks.

Three members of this year’s Cougar team were named on Preseason Watch Lists for their respective positions going into the season. Senior forward J’wan Roberts was included on the Karl Malone Award Preseason Watch List, senior guard L.J. Cryer was selected for the Jerry West Award Preseason Watch List and senior point guard Jamal Shead was named to the Bob Cousy Award Preseason Watch List.

Perhaps most importantly though, is the Cougars are led by one of the nation’s best head coaches, Kelvin Sampson. The 68-year-old coach has built a basketball powerhouse out of a Houston program.

The head of the snake

There’s no question that this Cougar squad wouldn’t be where they are without the main man in charge, Sampson.

Entering his 35th season as a head coach and 10th season for the Cougars, Coach Sampson expects nothing less than 100% intensity and effort from his players every time they touch the floor.

Baylor transfer guard L.J. Cryer was one of the major pickups this offseason for coach Kelvin Sampson and his staff. As expected, Sampson and his coaching style took some getting used to.

“I knew it was going to be a lot of hard work coming in, but I didn’t know it was going to be this hard though,” Cryer said. “He called me out for getting last in the sprints, and eventually I started being in front of the pack.”

Coach Sampson’s attitude never changes, regardless of how well or poorly the team performs.

“We were ranked number one a bunch last year, but for a couple moments in practice you wouldn’t even know we were ranked,” Shead said. “When your leader doesn’t really focus on rankings and that type of stuff, your team doesn’t seem to. Having him at the head of our snake really helps a lot.”

Last year, the Cougars finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in the country, won the American Athletic Conference and made it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament for the fifth consecutive time.

That didn’t happen by mistake.

A key component to having sustained success at a high level is having teammates who are willing to compete and do anything in their power to win. For UH, that fierceness is built against each other in practice.

“We damn near kill each other in practice,” Roberts said. “We feel like if somebody’s not going hard, we’re going to tell them.”

New conference, same mindset

Heading into a talent-heavy conference like the Big 12, the mindset and core principles still remain the same for Coach Sampson and his team.

“Every game is going to be a challenge,” Roberts said. “Just having that mindset and going into every game being prepared that we’re going to get everybody’s best is important.”

To be a great team, everyone must be in accord. And for this Cougars squad, that’s the standard.

“Coach Sampson forces us to be together all day. It’s us versus him most of the time,” Shead said. “What we go through before the season even starts brings us closer together. It’s not one person on this team that you wouldn’t want to be around, so that helps a lot with the character of everybody on this team.

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