Richard Justice: Here’s to Marcus Sasser, one of the best UH has ever had

Feb 25, 2023; Greenville, North Carolina, USA; Houston Cougars guard Marcus Sasser (0) runs free on a fast break against the East Carolina Pirates during the first half at Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: William Howard-USA TODAY Sports

Richard Justice: Here’s to Marcus Sasser, one of the best UH has ever had

    Marcus Sasser played his final game at the Fertitta Center on Thursday in a celebration of one of the most gifted, conscientious, and hardest-working basketball players the University of Houston has ever had.

   He’s a reminder that sometimes things work out just the way everyone dreamed they would. Perhaps no player represents the soaring men’s program at UH better than its 6-foot-2 senior point guard and spiritual leader. That he was not a hotshot recruit makes his story even better.

   UH assistant coach Kellen Sampson visited Red Oak High School back in 2018 to see another player when the head coach, Jason Sasser, urged him to take a look at his nephew.

   Recruiting had not taken off the way either of them had hoped, and at this point, the kid simply wanted an opportunity to prove himself.

   “I couldn’t believe how good he was. Couldn’t believe it,” Kellen Sampson told The Athletic.

   Sampson asked former UH assistant Alvin Brooks Jr. for his opinion. He saw the same things Kellen Sampson had seen. That summer, Kellen asked his dad to take a look when he was at a showcase event in Atlanta.

   “Beautiful shot,” Kelvin Sampson remembered, “and it kept going in.”

   He was there to watch other more heralded players, but he fell hard for Marcus Sasser.

  Sasser took his recruiting visit to Houston on his 18th birthday, according to The Athletic. After a team dinner at the head coach’s home, something unexpected happened.

   At the point in the night when other players take the recruit out on the town, UH point guard Galen Robinson asked: “Did you bring your tennis shoes?”

   The Cougars left the party and went to the gym to play. Marcus Sasser was sold on UH by the time he left town and was in the starting lineup midway through his freshman year. He has improved every season.

   He toyed with going to the NBA last year, but returned and has played himself solidly in the first-round thanks to a senior year in which he has shown the world a game that has no weakness.

   Last week, Kelvin Sampson lobbied reporters that Marcus Sasser should be the American Conference’s Player of the Year.

   “He’s the best player in this league,” the coach said. “Don’t base it on stats. Marcus’ stats could be a lot better if he took a lot more shots. That’s why I think the Player of the Year should be the best two-way player.

   “Is Marcus the best offensive guard? Maybe not, I don’t know. There are some really good offensive guards, some talented kids. I don’t think there’s a better two-way player in this conference than Marcus Sasser. That’s why when you start thinking about who’s the best player in the league, look at both ends. That’s why I think Marcus is the best player.”

   Marcus Sasser is the poster boy for a defense-first team. UH has allowed the fewest points and lowest field-goal percentage in the nation. Sasser can score. He’s eighth in the conference with 17.3 points per game, fifth in 3-point field-goal percentage, and fifth in assist/turnover ratio.

   “You go out into the game, you don’t know anything about offense,” he said.

   In other words, there’ll be games when his shots don’t go in. There are other ways to contribute.

   “I just try to start the game with a couple of steals, a couple of stops,” he said. “That’s how I get my energy going for the offense.”

   The 28-2 Cougars are the top-ranked team in the country as the regular season winds down. They’re a complete team, with a strong interior defensive presence and a solid perimeter offensive game.

   And it’ll be Marcus Sasser leading them into an NCAA Tournament in which optimism around the program could not be higher. With the Final Four a few miles from the UH campus at NRG Stadium, the Coogs could deliver a magic moment.

   “Everybody says, ‘He’s a good kid.’ Well, not all kids are good kids,” Sampson said. “Marcus is the best. I don’t think I’ve ever, ever heard a belligerent word out of his mouth about anybody or about him.”

   Long-range goals are way, way in the back of Sasser’s mind. He understands why the questions are asked, but believes they still aren’t a finished product.

   Great coaches have an ability to instill their core beliefs into players, and at UH, the players and coaches sound alike.

   Asked about all the things UH had accomplished in his four seasons, Sasser wouldn’t bite.

   “We try not to worry about that,” he said. “We want to live in the moment and try to get better. Our effort’s getting better. A lot of people are playing a lot harder for a longer amount of time. That’s been one thing we have been harping on, playing harder and a full forty minutes. That’s just one thing we’ve been pleased with.

   “Just the time the coaches put in with us in the film room and the gym. It helps everybody here become a better player and a better person.”

   Mission accomplished.

   “He’s not the same kid that I got out of Red Oak High School,” Sampson told the Houston Chronicle. “When he came back, he didn’t come back as the guy that was a freshman, sophomore, or junior. He came back as a guy that’s on the precipice of going to the NBA, and he’s had to learn how to deal with that.”

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