Mandatory Credit: Photo by Kevin M Cox/AP/Shutterstock (13779320y) Houston guard Marcus Sasser (0) brings up the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Tulane, in Houston Tulane Basketball, Houston, United States – 22 Feb 2023
Marcus Sasser the ‘all-around winner’ of Houston Cougars basketball
When senior guard Marcus Sasser finishes playing games for the Houston Cougars basketball team, he wants to be remembered for one thing: winning.
It has been on his mind since he stepped foot on the campus of the University of Houston. While Sasser is now a four-year senior who has become the face of the UH program and is on the verge of becoming an NBA player, it was not an easy path for the Red Oak native to achieve the success he has.
The Kelvin Sampson boot camp
On his first day in college as a teenager just out of Red Oak High School, Sasser was enthusiastic about getting to the Guy V. Lewis Development facility and putting up shots.
So, he did just that. He dropped his bags at his dorm. Then he headed straight for Houston’s facility. He was welcomed in by assistant coach Kellen Sampson. Kellen, however, noticed a difference in Sasser since the last time he had seen him.
“Woah, you’ve put on a couple of pounds brother,” Kellen recalled telling the new guard as he entered the facility.
It was a precursor to the tough summer a young Sasser was about to go through — the Kelvin Sampson boot camp.
Walk by faith, not by sight
One thing Sasser has always loved and has had a passion for is the game of basketball, Kellen Sampson told Gallery Sports. One thing that he didn’t was conditioning.
When the guard got to Houston, it was a big adjustment he had to make. His body was not used to it, Sasser said. It was a lot of hours, and he needed to get mentally tougher. At the time, it was a tough adaptation that almost made him leave the city before he ever played a game for the Cougars.
“It was real rough. I was finna leave,” Sasser said. “I called my momma, everything. Told her to come get me, all of that. It was tough.”
Ultimately, Sasser chose to stay. When he called his mother, Monique Sasser, during summer workouts, she always reminded him about a tattoo Marcus had on his body.
The tattoo reads: walk by faith, not by sight.
“It was hard,” Sasser said. “I feel like I needed that [hardship]. I feel like somebody is always going to need adversity really for them to be successful. I feel like that was just a part of my journey.”
He’s got ‘it’
During Sasser’s freshman season in 2019, the Houston Cougars went on a summer tour to Italy. In preparation for the different rules and regulations the team would encounter overseas, UH held an intra-team scrimmage in August before leaving.
Kellen Sampson was the head coach of the white team while fellow assistant coach Quannas White was the coach of the red team. White had Sasser as one of his guards. Kellen had DeJon Jarreau, who was entering his junior season.
It was the first time Kellen saw that Sasser had the “it” factor, he said.
“Marcus was the X-factor,” Kellen said. “Even as a true freshman, first summer, he hounded DeJon 94 feet and changed the game for his team. It might have been the first time [Kellen thought], ‘he might be a little pudgy, but he’s got the ‘it’ factor, and he is going to be a difference maker sooner rather than later.’”
As Sasser’s freshman year went along, he battled through the ups and downs every young player goes through. He was battling to find a consistent spot in Houston’s rotation. There were some games he came off the bench and others he started.
That was until a game on Dec. 23, 2019, in the Diamond Head Classic semifinals against Georgia Tech.
Silence speaks volumes
Sasser did not play at all against the Yellow Jackets during the in-season tournament.
Houston’s coaching staff did not hear anything from Sasser in response to not playing. He stayed focused on improving. For the coaches, the silence taught them all they needed to know about Sasser.
“How he handled that Georgia Tech moment, with the maturity and determination and he kept a quiet confidence about him, told us everything about Marcus,” Kellen said. “That he was somebody you could build with … He didn’t complain. He didn’t give up hope.
“He didn’t tuck his tail and run, there wasn’t a barrage of phone calls. He just put his head down and was determined to make it work.”
Sasser’s demeanor was actually one of the reasons that head coach Kelvin Sampson wanted him to be in his program coming out of high school.
“He had a quiet maturity about him,” Kelvin said. “And then for me, the tiebreaker was always shooting. If you are a good shooter, you can never have enough good shooting.”
A few weeks after the Georgia Tech game, Houston played against SMU on Jan. 15, 2020. Sasser was inserted into the starting lineup again, and this time, he stayed in it.
“Coach gave me a chance,” Sasser said. “I got on the court with defense, and you know, playing hard, playing to the culture.”
Since that game against SMU, Sasser has started all but one outing he has played in for the Houston Cougars. Over the course of Sasser’s four seasons with UH, he has seen his confidence continue to grow.
During his sophomore year, Sasser’s offensive skills improved. In his junior year, he really started to explode and began to get nationally noticed. Now, as a senior, he is the whole package, Sasser stated.
The epitome of selflessness
For Kellen, the one consistency with Sasser throughout his time at Houston has been selflessness.
Sasser had a strong start to the 2020-21 season, his sophomore year. Then he sprained his ankle and missed some time. He began to struggle with his jumper and teams played him differently.
While he was the starting point guard to begin the year in 2020-21, Houston decided it needed Jarreau to be the starting point guard and Sasser to be off the ball, Kellen said.
Similar to his freshman year, Sasser did not object. He embraced it despite at first struggling with finding his groove, Kellen said. The sacrifice, however, helped Houston excel on the court and reach the Final Four that season.
“Our team took off,” Kellen said. “Not a peep, not a moan, not a groan, he understood this is what is best for the team.”
This past summer, following a shortened junior year that saw Sasser put up career highs in points, rebounds and assists, the guard had a chance to put himself ahead of everyone else again.
Sasser had the opportunity of a lifetime sitting in front of him, Kellen said. He could have easily bet on himself. He could have forgone his senior year and headed for the NBA and no one would have blamed him, Kellen added.
Instead, Sasser chose to return to Houston. He knew UH had a real chance to win a national championship. Now that he is right in the middle of his decision, the guard said it is the best thing one he’s ever made.
“You can see now, the conference championship, all the memories I’m creating with my teammates, coaches, you don’t get these moments and things like that in the NBA,” Sasser said. “I feel like I came back to have fun, experience the tournament, and really just enjoy this time with my teammates.”
Now that Sasser’s time with the Cougars is winding down, his selflessness continues to pay off.
“It is working out in the best of ways for him, and I think it will work out for him in the best of ways come June too,” Kellen said. “Knock on wood, we have an awesome April moment with him, and he is going to have a terrific June moment when it is time for him at the end of that rainbow as well.”
Sasser has achieved a lot of accolades during his time in Houston. He has accumulated a lot of memories too. His favorite is still guard Tramon Mark’s halfcourt buzzer-beater to beat Memphis in the last game of the regular season in 2021.
The one thing he wants to be remembered for years after he has played his last game for the Cougars, however, is winning.
“I feel like that is really why I play,” Sasser said. “That is one of the things that I want to leave with. Have my legacy known as just being an all-around winner.”