New York Knicks guard Quentin Grimes, who was a starting guard for the Houston Cougars basketball team’s Final Four run, enjoys Sunday’s game against Memphis. Grimes was in Salt Lake City, Utah, just two days prior to UH’s contest against Memphis for the NBA’s Rising Star game during the All Star Break. (Courtesy Anh Le)
Former players were in abundance during Sunday’s Houston Cougars basketball game against the Memphis Tigers. It was a sign of the family that head coach Kelvin Sampson has built under his tenure.
Sitting at the baseline courtside seats near the Houston bench were Fabian White Jr., the winningest player in the history of the team’s program, Kyler Edwards, who was a starting guard in last year’s Elite Eight team, and current New York Knicks guard Quentin Grimes, who was a starting guard in the Cougars’ Final Four team in 2021.
Also inside Fertitta Center were Landon Goesling, Galen Robinson Jr., and Damyean Dotson, all of whom were part of previous Houston teams under Sampson that played pivotal roles in building the program to where it is today.
Houston Cougars legend Hakeem Olajuwon was also in attendance for UH’s game. His legacy will forever be known at UH for being a part of the Phi Slama Jama teams in the 1980s under coach Guy V. Lewis.
They were all among the 7,730 people that packed into the arena, a new Fertitta Center record, on Sunday to watch the current Cougars, now ranked No. 1 in the country in both national polls, defeat Memphis, 72-64.
After the game, Sampson was asked if he has taken the time to reflect on the culture he has built at Houston. The head coach said no.
In the past, he has said he struggles to stop and smell the flowers at the moment. However, he never loses sight of what players returning to Houston mean for his program.
“It’s us. It’s not me,” Sampson said. “I talk to our kids all the time about being selfless. Being selfless doesn’t mean you think less of yourself, it just means you think more of others. There’s so many people that had a hand in doing this.”
For Sampson, no individual can take credit for what Houston has built over the last few years.
When it comes to UH basketball alumni, Sampson makes sure they always have a home to return to with the Cougars. It is why when Houston was building its basketball facilities, Sampson made sure 17 player lockers were built.
It was not because the head coach expected the Cougars to have 17 players on their roster for one year. Sampson said it was because of the former players during his weekly radio show on Jan. 18.
“I always want those kids to make sure that they feel part of our family, so when they go play professional ball, when they come back, they always have a locker to dress in,” Sampson said.
Throughout the course of the 2022-23 season, Houston has seen several familiar faces in the stands. Former Houston point guard DeJon Jarreau, another starter in UH’s 2021 Final Four team, has been at several games this year.
Justin Gorham, who is currently playing in the Winner League in Israel for the Gilboa Galil, was at Houston’s game against Tulsa earlier in the month. He was only in the United States for a few days before he had to head back to finish his season overseas.
The Houston Cougars basketball alumni fraternity is only going to continue to grow. One member that will soon join the group is senior guard Marcus Sasser. For now, he is still a current UH player, and seeing his former teammates is something he always enjoys.
“Good to see the team I used to play with, my brothers, you know, cheering us on, and I just remember like it was yesterday, they was right there on the court with me,” said Sasser on Sunday. “They all just came into the locker room. It is like a second family.”
Eventually, after this season ends, and the Dallas native goes through the 2023 NBA Draft, he will one day return to Fertitta Center. He will be shown on Houston’s two big boards inside the arena, and he will receive a standing ovation. It is a time-tested formula that illustrates how close Sampson’s program truly is.
“We’ve developed a really good program here, but the emphasis is we have,” Sampson said. “One person doesn’t do it. I’m proud of our program. I’m proud of everybody in it. You know you got a good program when kids keep coming back.”