For Houston Cougars men’s basketball freshmen, it’s about learning how to impact winning

The Houston Cougars men’s basketball team held its firs practice of the season on Tuesday, Sept. 27. (Courtesy Sean Thomas)

For Houston Cougars men’s basketball freshmen, it’s about learning how to impact winning

The Houston Cougars men’s basketball team is officially on the road to the season opener after holding its first practice on Sept. 27.

UH enters the season with a lot of expectations for various reasons, one of which includes the incoming class of freshmen Jarace Walker, Terrance Arceneaux and Emanuel Sharp. For head coach Kelvin Sampson, however, the hype and noise mean absolutely nothing, especially regarding the new players because they have a lot to learn, he said.

“None of these guys are ready to impact winning,” Sampson said on Tuesday. “None of them. Name me a player, he is not ready to impact winning because he is a first-year player.”

Sampson has been through it every season, he said. Previous players like Armoni Brooks, Quentin Grimes, Damyean Dotson, Rob Gray and a lengthy list of numerous others all were the same when they first arrived at the program, he added.

They had to learn to play hard, learn to compete, learn to play within the system and grow, Sampson said. Some players came from different programs, others came straight out of high school. This year’s class is no different, he said. Don’t get the head coach started about high school rankings.

The year the Cougars made the Final Four in 2021, the top two recruiting classes heading into the season were Kentucky at No. 1 and Duke at No. 2, Sampson said. The Wildcats finished that year 9-16, and the Blue Devils went 13-11. Both missed the NCAA Tournament that year, he said.

“It’s about experience,” Sampson said. “It’s about learning the system. It’s about picking things up, and they are going to struggle. But effort and attitude are things they can control, and that is what this program is all about.”

Into the fire

There’s nothing quite like a Houston Cougars practice under Sampson, junior guard Jamal Shead said. While the newcomers can be told stories of what to expect, until they go through it, they really have no way of fully grasping what it is going to be like.

“You can’t prepare for anything coach Sampson does,” Shead said. “You can talk about it, envision it, but you can’t prepare yourself for it.”

Houston battles and gives 100% effort in every drill, said Walker, who had just finished his first collegiate career practice on Tuesday. Walker, Houston’s first five-star recruit under Sampson, comes from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. He was also named a McDonald’s All-American before joining UH.

“It’s another level here like just the intensity of everything, how hard they go like every single drill. It’s definitely another level to it for sure,” Walker said.

That’s why the new players came to Houston, Sampson said. They knew what they were getting into, he added. They will learn that making mistakes is not a problem. The effort level they have when they make their mistakes is what the focus will be on, the head coach said.

The team’s freshmen are talented, but not yet tough, Sampson said. As the days go on and turn to weeks, which then turn to months, the goal will be for them to get to the level of toughness Sampson and his staff demand, which will be done by jumping straight into the fire.

“Nobody in here running around asking for autographs,” Sampson said. “Nobody wants their selfie. If anything, we are going to kick their [back end], but that is what it takes to get them better.”

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