U of H taking team basketball to the next level as they head into the postseason without a bonified star
How far can the Cougars go in the NCAA Tournament?
We know how far the University of Houston Men's Basketball team has come over the last several years, the real question now is how far can this season's team go? Coach Kelvin Sampson and his staff have done a fantastic job putting together and molding a team that was a buzzer beater away from beating Michigan and getting to the Sweet 16 a year ago. That Wolverines team would be the national runner-up after losing to Villanova in the title game and had everyone wondering what could've been for the Coogs?
Even though the loss was incredibly disappointing and tough to swallow, advancing to the second round of the tournament was a milestone that hadn't happened since the team lost to Georgetown in the National Championship game in 1984. It was the next progression in a steady climb back to national prominence for Coach Sampson and for the program. After the wild ride of last season, there was plenty of uncertainty heading into this year with the squad losing leading scorer Rob Gray as well as versatile big man Devin Davis. Were they headed for a letdown or could they continue to progress and build on their recent success?
The answers came quickly and surprised everyone as they were able to overcome the loss of Gray and Davis and win their first 15 games. The team not only appeared in the top 25, but they also steamrolled into the top 10 and in doing so, got the school as high as they had been in the polls since the days of Phi Slamma Jamma.
The beauty of this years' roster is there is no one player that dominates the locker room or the box score. They play like a team on both ends of the floor, sharing the ball, making the extra pass, switching, rotating and cleaning the glass. They are athletic and versatile as they get in your face on defense, playing the passing lanes aggressively, while on offense they push the tempo and knock down the three ball. Sampson and his staff make sure the team stays grounded and never gets too high or too low and only worries about the next game on the schedule and not what they are ranked or how far they can go in the tournament. The truth is, the way this team plays and how hard they compete has a lot of folks thinking they can play with anyone in the country.
It's a true compliment to Coach Sampson that this team plays as hard as it does, defends at such a high level and finds a way to win close games by playing smart and staying fundamentally sound. When you don't have an all-American type player like Gray was a year ago, it requires a buy-in from everyone on the squad to do whatever it takes and assume any role required. Players can't afford to take a night off as they have to make individual sacrifices to assure team success.
Every night the Cougars exert extra energy and hustle on every play to assure there are no letdowns and they hold each other accountable both on and off the floor. If you aren't a great coach that teaches and nurtures his team on a daily basis and gets them to believe in the concepts and philosophies that will be essential, you will see more players tuning out and rebelling than diving on loose balls and making hustle plays to win games.
Sampson leads by example with heart and determination, teaching and encouraging his players to leave it all on the floor and good things will happen. He makes sure they know he believes in them and in return they believe in what he is preaching and they give him everything they have. That's a recipe for success that has led to a regular season conference championship and could lead to a whole lot of joy in the middle of March Madness. Regardless of how far they go, they have made the entire city proud with all they have already accomplished and Sampson deserves consideration for coach of the year.