Kelvin Sampson: new year, same stuff for Houston Cougars

Houston Cougars head coach Kelvin Sampson spoke to reporters ahead of the team’s first practice of the season on Sept. 27. (Courtesy Sean Thomas)

Kelvin Sampson: new year, same stuff for Houston Cougars

With the first official practice slated for Sept. 27, Houston Cougars men’s basketball head coach Kelvin Sampson is ready to get full reins of his new roster.

The 2022-23 Cougars are deep from top to bottom at various positions. From guards to bigs, UH touts new additions in Terrance Arceneaux, a four-star recruit from Beaumont United High School, Emanuel Sharp, who was an early enrollee and has been with the team since January, and Jarace Walker, Houston’s first five-star recruit under the Sampson era.

Houston is also returning senior guard Marcus Sasser, who missed most of the 2021-22 season with a foot injury. Sasser decided to return to the team after testing the NBA waters in the offseason. Additionally, UH returns guard Jamal Shead, who starred in Sasser’s absence last season. Guard Tramon Mark, who played only six games last season due to a shoulder injury, is also returning.

Sampson, however, is not going to let any expectations define who his team is in September.

“We’re not ready to play a game,” Sampson said. “If we played against somebody that was good right now, we’d get killed. I don’t know if anybody is very good in September. I know that we are not, but we don’t play until Nov. 7. I’m hoping we will be ready to play on Nov. 7.”

The Houston head coach approaches each season with certain similarities, he said. Sampson does not change a lot of his core principles, but he does add things here and there, he added.

Sampson approaches practices with specific focuses, he said. He added that his team could stay on one topic for two days until they are ready to move on to the second focus and the same approach applies before they move on to any other focus. He said all the different points of emphasis are always reviewed even after they have moved on to a new one.

Pick and rolls, the team’s monster action where they trap opposing players in the post, transition defense, offensive rebounding, gaps, angles, and where players’ feet need to be in different situations all need to be taught, Sampson said.

The head coach said he likes to teach in whole and in parts. Sampson teaches his team what a specific focus is supposed to look like by taking them through film, and then it is broken down into drills, he added.

The results then speak on the court. Houston’s team’s under Sampson have been defined in previous years by tenacity on the offensive glass, strong defense, and gritty play style.

“What we’re good at is what we work at,” Sampson said.

So far this offseason, Houston’s workouts have been highly competitive. Sampson said his white team in the workouts, which is usually the team’s second team in practice, has been really good against the red team.

In a workout on Thursday morning, a team of transfer Mylik Wilson, Ramon Walker, Arceneaux, Ja’Vier Francis, and either Jarace Walker or J’Wan Roberts, Sampson said he could not remember who was on the team between the two, competed against a team of Shead, Sasser, Mark, Reggie Chaney, and Jarace Walker or Roberts.

“You mix them up, and you go scrimmage, and then your team gets better,” Sampson said. “You get a lot of good work in when you mix them up.”

With over a month left until Houston opens the season against Northern Colorado, Sampson said the new guys have to be given the opportunity to beat out the older guys on the roster. Just because a player was a key contributor a year ago does not guarantee the same spot the next year, he said.

“If they beat them out, then they are going to beat them out,” Sampson said. “You don’t get participation medals or bring some from last year. It’s a new year. Last time I checked, if you rent something, you got to pay your rent on it every month.”

“Our guys know that nothing has changed. This is a new year, but it is the same old stuff.”

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