Loss doesn't dim hopes

UH’s national prominence sees ESPN College GameDay hosted at Fertitta Center

Jackson T. Gatlin/SportsMap

The excitement in the air was palpable as fans stormed the Fertitta Center doors for the first-come, first-seating to take part in ESPN College GameDay at the University of Houston this past Saturday.

Free basketball net hats, hilarious handmade signs and a sea of red dawned the stands as the GameDay broadcast hit the airwaves at 10 a.m.

Fans of all shapes and sizes, including the newly-famous "Trash Can Man" were joined together to celebrate the University of Houston men's basketball program and its rise to national relevancy; relevancy that has not been seen since the days when Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler were walking around as students and Phi Slama Jama was dominating opposing teams on the hardwood.

But can head coach Kelvin Sampson and his squad finish off the historic run with a national title?

"They're absolutely good enough," said ESPN's Jay Bilas. "Kelvin Sampson's done a remarkable job resurrecting this program. He's built it on taking care of the ball, on defense and on rebounding. That's the identity of this team. They're legit and they can get to the Final Four."

The GameDay crew proceeded to discuss tournament seeding, and upon bringing up Duke as the (likely) No. 1 seed, the raucous Cougar crowd began to chant "overrated" and "we want Duke" behind them.

While there are plenty of successful programs across America, Duke being one of them, Houston and coach Sampson's recipe for success boils down to one thing: family.

"Most important thing to me is my faith and family," Sampson said. "I don't think I was great at those early on. Coming here was a chance to get the family together. That's why this is the best job I've ever had."

From benching senior Corey Davis Jr. in the first half of a game earlier this year because he was late to the bus or showing support for redshirt sophomore DeJon Jarreau after a death in his family, Coach Sampson has developed a culture of family-first values and accountability at the University of Houston.

He even invites players to his house the night before a game to enjoy fresh baked chocolate chip cookies made by his wife Karen, a ritual they have all come to enjoy.

"He's teaching them history, and that's why they have such a strong foundation," said Cougar basketball alumnus and former Houston Rocket Elvin Hayes. "We got to the final four; they can maybe get to the championship."

Hayes was not the only alumnus and ex-Rocket in "Coogs" house Saturday, as Olajuwon also joined the show to provide his insight on coach Sampson and the UH basketball program.

"Coach Sampson has done a fantastic job gaining national attention. He's tough and demanding. I think they wouldn't have been able to find anyone better to turn this program around," Olajuwon said.

Despite recording just its second loss of the season against the UCF Knights later that afternoon, the Cougars have nothing to be ashamed of.

A few fans trickled out early when it became clear UCF was destined to win, but the majority of them stayed and applauded, still proud of their now 27-2 ball club.

Backed by legends, analysts and billionaire Tilman Fertitta, whose name hangs off the sides of the building, Cougar nation could not have asked for a better leader of a basketball Renaissance than Kelvin Sampson.

With 3 division winners and a recent championship they should be near the top

Is Houston the top pro sports city in the nation?

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Astros World Series photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

It's a great time to be a Houston sports fan. Sure there are always going to be teams and situations that could be better, like the Texans offensive line, but overall it could be a whole lot worse. All 3 of H-town's major sports properties are sitting pretty in their current situation. The Texans, Rockets, and Astros all currently stand as the reigning division winner in their given league and all have a legitimate shot to compete for a championship. OK, realistically two of them do and the third has the makings of a playoff team that could get to that elite status if they draft properly and make a late addition or two. Let's take a look at the squads in the space city and how they stack up with other metropolitan areas of the United States.

Jose Altuve has a 3 home run game against the Red Sox in game one of the ALDS. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Astros are the easiest team on this list to talk about. All they do is win in the last few years including bringing the city its first-ever World Series title just two short years ago. The team never seems to rest on the success of the past and has loaded up and locked down key players to assure that they will be in the hunt for another title this October and be on the scene in the postseason for years to come. Jeff Luhnow and owner Jim Crane used savvy transactions and the financial commitment necessary to keep the good players the had like George Springer, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, and Carlos Correa and then went out and made moves to get big names like Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Michael Brantly.

A.J. Hinch and Roberto Osuna Bob Levey/Getty Images

They also took chances and ran the risk of losing the luster on all their sparkling success by trading for a much-needed closer in Roberto Osuna who was facing serious legal issues in Toronto. They did their due diligence and plenty of homework to believe he would be cleared of all charges eventually and made the surprising and controversial trade that helped to re-shape their bullpen. Along with Ryan Pressly, another late-season trade acquisition last season, the Astros quickly turned their biggest weakness into another position of strength. Houston, you have a world class baseball team and the organization to keep it that way for years to come.

Hakeem Olajuwon playing for the Houston Rockets in 1993 Photo by Tim DeFrisco/ALLSPORT/Getty Images

The Rockets are a team that can never be questioned when it comes to going for it and chasing championships. When you think back on it, ever since the back-to-back championships in the mid-nineties the team has always aggressively pursued big names like Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, Tracy McGrady, and Dwight Howard. It hasn't always worked out for them in terms of winning it all, but it always gave them a shot and made them a team to watch nationally.

Chris Paul and James Harden

Things are going well when Paul and Harden are both healthy. Tim Warren/Getty Images

When GM Daryl Morey traded for James Harden and later acquired Chris Paul, it assured the city that they would have one of the top teams in the NBA and a roster equipped to compete with the best in the league, mainly the Golden State Warriors. We all know that if Paul doesn't pull a hamstring last season in the Western Conference Finals we may very well be talking about another title team in our fair city. After a rough start and some missteps with the roster and replacing players lost in free agency, the team has re-tooled and most importantly is healthy heading into another playoff run. With Boogie Cousins going down for the Warriors, this could be the year that the Rockets take down the champs.

Houston Texans Bill O'Brien It's time for a change Kirby Drive. Houston Texans/Facebook

The Texans are the lowest sitting team on the city's list of success stories but not without accomplishments along the way. If the biggest knock on your favorite football team is that it wins its division and then fades away in the postseason, it could be a lot worse. In the past five years, they have had a team that most experts gave a legitimate chance to upset the New England Patriots and represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. We all know how that turned out as the Pats did what they always do when the stage is bigger and the stakes higher. Since then they have managed to win more than they have lost and done what they needed to do to win the division and at the very least, give themselves a chance to compete for a Lombardi trophy. Even last year when it looked like all hope was lost after a horrendous 0-3 start, the team manufactured nine straight wins to secure another playoff birth and the division title. In the process, they were a national story as they broke the record for most consecutive wins after losing their first three contests to start a season.

Bob Levey/Getty Images

Sure it ended prematurely and in disappointment, but not without another successful year and not without providing hope that they will be back if they can improve their offensive line and defensive secondary. The draft is right around the corner and GM Brian Gaine has his hands full and a whole lot of eyes on him and his every move as the team gets prepared to defend one title and compete for another. As long as they have thier franchise quarterback thay will always have a chance.

In looking at the big picture and comparing cities across the nation in their current sporting state, there are not many metro areas that can say they are better than Houston and their 3 teams. Boston is probably the one cut and dried town that can boast better numbers and accomplishments than H-town. The Patriots are a dynasty coming off yet another Super Bowl victory, the Red Sox are the reigning World Series champs and the Celtics made the conference finals last year and are a top 4 seed in this year's playoffs. That's pretty tough to beat. Other than that, there are a whole lot of slight seconds and runners up, starting with the Bayou city. New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles have blatant shortcomings and can't compete. That in itself is worth celebrating. So enjoy the ride H-town, from a sporting perspective, life is good!

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