The Pallilog

Sampson's future hangs over UH in Tournament

Kelvin Sampson. Bob Levey/Getty Images

What a week. An Astros' season of immense potential is under way with newly contract-extended Justin Verlander very sharp opening day (minus a leadoff homer), the Rockets won a game over Denver that was absolutely essential toward any chance of ascending to the second seed in the Western Conference, and the University of Houston plays a Sweet 16 game for the first time in 35 years.

More on the Cougars first. For the moment it's still about this spectacular season. The second it's over becomes about whether Head Coach Kelvin Sampson is heading for Arkansas or anywhere else. First things first. Kentucky is very good, with substantially more highly regarded talent and most of the NBA prospects. But the teams appear to be pretty even. The outcome could tilt on the availability and effectiveness of UK forward P.J. Washington. The Wildcats' leading scorer and rebounder sprained a foot during the SEC Tournament and didn't get out of a cast until Tuesday. An on his game Washington would team with Reid Travis to give the Cats two 6'8" guys who can both post up and face up. That would be very challenging for UH's stout defense which is stouter on the perimeter than inside. With just Travis to defend, the Coogs are in good position to pull off what would be a very mild upset. The UH-UK winner probably falls to North Carolina Sunday. Or maybe Auburn takes down the Tar Heels first. March Madness!

Now the possible looming gloom and doom. What Kelvin Sampson has done in building the previously moribund University of Houston basketball program is simply spectacular. Alas, he may want to move on. As exasperating as it would be for Cougar rooters to lose another head coach who has done good work, there are realities. I don't think this would be a money play, though while Sampson makes about 1.5 mil at UH, fired Arkansas coach Mike Anderson was over 2.5 mil. Maybe having his name attached to the Sooie Pig gig merely sets a baseline for Sampson's redone UH deal. The SEC is a better league than the AAC with millions and millions of dollars more in prestige and clout. Arkansas has the larger and more rabid fan base. The Razorbacks play in Walton Arena where in an 18-16 season their smallest home attendance was more than 13,000. The first season of Fertitta Center made for a fantastic environment, but capacity was held to barely 7,000 for reasons.

Whatever decision Sampson makes is entirely his to make. I'd scoff at leaving Houston for Fayetteville, but I'm not a rich college basketball coach. At 63 years old Sampson is much closer to the end of his career than to its beginning. If a bigger stage opportunity, challenge, and chance to be THE game in town are what he wants, good for him. Sampson (plus the facilities) turned the UH job into a much more desirable position that if open will attract quality candidates.

One line I would draw if I were UH, is not agreeing to anoint Kelvin's son Kellen "Head Coach In Waiting." Kellen is a promising young assistant, but he is thinly credentialed for what the UH job now is or will be if Kelvin stays and retires at whatever point.

Rockets roll

Critical win for the Rockets over Denver Thursday night to take the season series and tiebreaker. If the Rockets win out to finish 54-28, to snatch the second seed they need the Nuggets to lose four of their remaining eight games. The Nuggets are 31-6 at home with four probable wins left in the Mile High City (Wizards, Spurs, Blazers, T'Wolves), but have road games at Oklahoma City, Golden State, Portland, and Utah. On the other side of the coin the Rockets have one more loss than do the Trail Blazers and Portland owns the tiebreaker.

Earlier this week the Bucks beat the Rockets. That game reinforced the reality that any claim that James Harden is the only choice for MVP, is either local yokel boosterism or ESPN's Mike Greenberg sounding silly. Only the biased or ignorant do not find Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo a wholly legitimate alternative. Harden's offensive season is historic and he is of course worthy of winning MVP again. Ditto worthiness of the "Greek Freak" who is averaging more than 27 points on better than 50 percent shooting (58), 12 rebounds, and 6 assists per game. The full list of players in NBA history to average those numbers for a season: Antetokounmpo. Um, that's historic too. And he's a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and the dominant star of the team with the best record in the league.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Back-to-back Elite 8s for Texas Tech. Over the last two seasons no c-hoop coach has been better than Chris Beard. Gonzaga's O vs.Tech's D should be something Saturday. 2. Hook 'Em! Final Four! Of the NIT. Cue laugh track. 3. Things that go best with peanut butter: Bronze-marshmallow Silver-banana Gold-chocolate of course

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Watson's accusers appeared on Real Sports on Tuesday night. Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images.

HBO Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel’s heavily promoted and much anticipated examination of Deshaun Watson’s legal mess involving alleged sexual misconduct shed little new light and merely presented a summary of well worn he said/she (x22) said accusations and denials.

The episode debuted Tuesday night on the premium cable service and will be repeated dozens of times throughout the week on HBO’s platforms. Check your local listings for times and channel.

The segment was hosted by Soledad O’Brien who presented compelling face-to-face interviews with two of the quarterback’s accusers: massage therapists Ashley Solis and Kyla Hayes. Their stories were detailed and graphic. Both cried during the interviews.

Solis: “As I’m working, he deliberately grabs himself and put his penis on my hand. I pulled my hand away instantly and I started crying. I told that I’m done. I don’t want to do this anymore.”

Solis said she felt threatened when Watson, before leaving the session, allegedly told her: “I know you have a career to protect, and I know that you don’t want anyone messing with it, just like I don’t want anyone messing with mine.”

Solis added, “That’s when I got really scared because that sounded like a threat to me.”

Hayes: “He wanted me to kind of make a V motion in his pelvic area. I just kept massaging and did what he asked, until his penis kept touching me repeatedly as I did it.”

Hayes said that Watson had an orgasm, which she said was “mortifying, embarrassing and disgusting.”

O’Brien asked Hayes why she continued to have contact via email with Watson after their encounter.

Hayes: "I wasn't sure what he was capable of. He could've physically assaulted me. He could've bashed my business, so I had to protect myself and my business the best way I saw fit. Did I ever see him again after that? No. Did I give him the runaround? Yes."

O’Brien pointed out that two separate grand juries in Texas heard criminal accusations against Watson and neither found enough evidence to indict him.

Solis and Hayes, and 20 other massage therapists have filed civil suits against Watson. The cases aren’t expected to reach a courtroom until next March. Both sides could reach a settlement before then which would effectively shut down any legal action against Watson. However, both sides say they aren’t interested in any pretrial settlements. That’s what they say now, anyway.

After being banished to the sidelines for the 2021 season by the Houston Texans, Watson signed a historic, 5-year fully guaranteed $230 million contract with the Cleveland Browns.

Hayes said she feels Watson “is being rewarded for bad behavior." Solis said, "It's just like a big screw you. That's what it feels like. That we (the Browns) don't care. He can run and throw, and that's what we care about.”

Watson currently is participating in preseason workouts with the Browns and, at the moment, is cleared to play the upcoming NFL season.

That is unless the NFL suspends Watson for some, most or all of the 2022 season. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has said the league is nearing completion of its independent investigation into Watson’s case and will reach a decision “shortly,” probably this summer. The NFL and NFL Players Association mutually agreed to have former U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson decide whether or not Watson violated the league’s Personal Conduct Policy and what discipline should be handed down if he did.

The Browns are scheduled to play the Texans on Dec. 4 at NRG Stadium in Houston.

O’Brien said, while producing the Real Sports piece, she tried to interview Watson, his attorneys and the Cleveland Browns for their side of the story. All declined.

During a press conference in March to announce his joining the Browns, Watson denied any inappropriate behavior with the massage therapists.

Watson: “I never assaulted any woman. I’ve never disrespected any woman. I was raised to be genuine and respect everyone around me. I’ve never done the thing that these people are alleging. My mom and my aunties didn’t raise me that way.”

Leah Graham, a member of Watson’s legal team, sat for an interview after O’Brien’s segment was complete.

Graham: "It's 22 women. It's one lawyer. There's only one lawyer who was willing to take these cases. And as we know from Ashley Solis’ deposition, Mr. (Houston attorney Tony) Buzbee was not the first, probably not the second or third lawyer she went to, but he was the only one to take her case. Why? Not because it had merit, but because he would use these cases to increase his social media following and quite frankly to get on shows like this one.”

My reaction after watching the Real Sports segment? We weren’t in the room when the massage therapists worked on Watson. We weren’t in the grand jury room when evidence against Watson was presented. We don’t know what happened. We don’t know what will happen if these cases go to trial.

Until then all we have is one big, lurid, embarrassing mess. In American courtrooms, defendants are presumed innocent. That’s often the opposite in the court of public opinion. We’ll just have to wait while the wheels of justice grind painfully slow.

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