Houston’s Kelvin Sampson’s non-negotiables: playing hard, defending, rebounding

Houston Cougars men’s basketball head coach Kelvin Sampson speaks with freshman Jarace Walker during the team’s first game of the season against Northern Colorado. (Courtesy Sean Thomas)

Houston’s Kelvin Sampson’s non-negotiables: playing hard, defending, rebounding

Kelvin Sampson and his Houston Cougars men’s basketball team have gotten off to a strong start in the 2022-23 season.

No. 3 Houston (3-0) has defeated its opponents by an average of 33 points a game and has not allowed a single team to score more than 55 points in an outing. The Cougars’ opponents are shooting just 25.9 percent from the field and committing 16.7 turnovers per game, but for Sampson, all the stats are just background noise.

“We are just progressing,” Sampson said. “I don’t look at stats. My eyes are my stats. We are getting better at the things that we teach. It is hard to be a good defensive team. It is. I don’t want people to take this stuff for granted. If it was easy, then everyone would do it, but we really, really work at it.”

Sampson has multiple non-negotiables for his players. He demands each one of them to play hard, defend and rebound.

Houston’s non-negotiables are one of the key reasons why year in and year out, the Cougars have been able to sustain consistent success. For 40 minutes, Houston’s opponents are going to be in a slugfest, and if they are not able to match up with the intensity, then there is a good chance they are going to get run off the court.

But what drives the consistency? Accountability. If anyone, and they really mean anyone, is not meeting the expectations set forth by the program, Sampson will take them out.

“That’s why some of the guys didn’t play as much as they wanted to,” Sampson told reporters following Houston’s win over Oral Roberts on Monday. “I didn’t like their commitment to how we defend and practice every day.”

“If you’re not going to take it to the games, then where are you going to take it to? You learn in practice, but you carry it over to the games with your attitude and effort.” Sampson said.

Sampson gives a ton of credit to his kids and staff because they all buy into it. They all must if they want to see the court.

“[I’m] just learning how to play hard every day, every chance that I get,” Houston forward Ja’Vier Francis said. “That’s pretty much it.”

Francis was one of the players that entered Monday’s game and excelled at making plays that impact winning, a phrase Sampson has coined throughout the team’s preseason. Particularly, Francis was able to grab 11 rebounds against the Golden Eagles. From top to bottom, it is what Sampson looks for from his players.

Running on close-outs, not biting on pump fakes, especially on jump shots, diving for loose balls, a Ramon Walker specialty, and above all else, buying into the team’s culture.

“Playing hard, defending, rebounding, and all those things are important to our program,” Sampson said. “Always have been.”

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