A Defender Special

These are the stories that captured our interests all year long.

While the Texans and Rockets continued their downward trend in 2022, there was plenty to celebrate on the Houston sports scene.

The Astros, of course, were the odds-on favorites to win the World Series, and they delivered, winning their second world championship and giving longtime MLB manager Dusty Baker his first World Series ring.

Here is a look at the top pro and college sports stories in The Defender this year.

Brittney Griner comes home

After 294 days of detainment in Russia, WNBA star and Houston native Brittney Griner was surprisingly freed on Dec. 8 due to a one-for-one prisoner swap between the U.S. and Russia. It had been quite a year for Griner after she was detained at an airport near Moscow on Feb. 18 after less than a gram of marijuana concentrate was found in her luggage on her way home. Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison as a result, her appeal of the sentence was denied, and she began serving time in an oppressive penal colony in a remote part of Russia. All the while, there was plenty of support from the WNBA, NBA, family and friends and politicians to bring BG home. President Joe Biden and government agencies assured the public and Griner’s wife, Cherelle, that they were doing everything they could to get the U.S. Olympic gold medalist returned home and they made good on their promise.

Dusty Baker, Astros win World Series

Astros manager Dusty Baker had come close to winning the World Series a few times during his illustrious career. Still, it finally happened for him in October when he guided the Astros to their second World Series title. At 73, Baker became the oldest manager in Major League Baseball history to win a World Series. It was the perfect topper to what had already been a Hall of Fame managing career during his nearly 30 years of running clubs. Until this season, Baker had accomplished nearly everything but win a World Series title. The Astros’ third-year manager became the first African American manager to win 2,000 games. He is also the only manager to lead five different clubs to the postseason, to win division titles with five different teams and he is one of only two to achieve 1,800 hits as a player and win 1,800 games as a manager.

Deshaun Watson makes a dramatic return

There has probably never been more attention placed on two NFL teams facing each other than when the Browns and Texans met at NRG Stadium in early December. That had everything to do with the return of once-beloved Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. There wasn’t much love this time around with the NFL conveniently setting up Watson’s 11-game suspension on sexual misconduct allegations from nearly two dozen massage therapists to end when his new team played the Texans in Houston. The game was surrounded by plenty of drama with attorney Tony Buzbee vowing to bring some of the accusing women to the game and Houston fans booing the once-beloved quarterback on every snap of the game. Watson, who hadn’t played football in nearly two years after demanding a trade from the Texans, was rusty in his first game with the Browns but his team escaped Houston with a 27-14 win.

Lovie Smith coaches the Texans

It seemed Lovie Smith’s NFL head coaching days were behind him when after conducting a national search, the Texans turned to the man who was serving as their defensive coordinator to be their next head coach in February. Smith, 64, was the surprise replacement for David Culley. Smith, who is one of a few Black NFL head coaches, brought a lot of experience and success to the position after having led the Chicago Bears to a Super Bowl during his tenure and having also coached the Tampa Buccaneers for a spell.

Deion Sanders leaves SWAC

Deion “Prime Time” Sanders and Alabama State football coach Eddie Robinson Jr. made the debate national this season after Robinson questioned the Pro Football Hall of Famer’s loyalty to the SWAC and his employer, Jackson State. It seems to many that Robinson was right because Sanders took the first train out of Jackson, Miss., taking the $5 million a year deal to take over Power 5 bottom feeder Colorado. What made it troubling for some is that Sanders convinced his followers that his tenure at Jackson State was him answering God’s calling, but when push came to shove instead of celebrating the SWAC Championship Game win with his players, Sanders was busy trying to catch a flight out of town to Boulder, Colo. after the game.

Cynthia Cooper-Dyke under fire

Former Houston Comets star and basketball legend Cynthia Cooper-Dyke shocked everyone when she abruptly retired as the Texas Southern women’s basketball coach in March. A few weeks later, it would come out that Cooper-Dyke was being probed and under a Title IX investigation for her alleged mistreatment of players during her coaching stints at TSU, UNC-Wilmington and USC. It turns out that during the 2021-22 season, Cooper-Dyke was under a limited contact order, which kept her mostly away from her team. The allegations against her claimed that she had been verbally abusive, vulgar and demeaning to her players, to the point some said it resulted in depression or quitting basketball.

Rockets draft a trio

As a result of subpar play on the basketball court and heads-up assets from the Russell Westbrook and James Harden trades, the Rockets drafted three potential stars during the first round of  June’s NBA Draft. The Rockets went SEC strong when they took Jabari Smith with the No. 3 overall pick, then grabbed Tari Eason with the 17th overall and TyTy Washington with the 29th selection of the draft.

Texans make the trade

After more than a year of uncertainty about where and when to deal embattled quarterback Deshaun Watson, the Texans hit the jackpot when they dealt him to the Cleveland Browns. The Browns sent the Texans their first-round picks in 2022 and 2023, a third-round pick in 2023 and a fourth-rounder in 2024 in the trade for Watson. It had been more than a year since the franchise quarterback made it known that he no longer wanted to play for the Texans after chairman Cal McNair went back on his word to give Watson input in the head coach and general manager hires in 2021. Watson, who was embroiled in multiple lawsuits with massage therapists at the time, agreed to a five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed contract with the Browns after the trade.

TSU finds NCAA Tourney success

For the second straight year, the TSU men’s basketball team defeated Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 76-67 during an NCAA Tournament First-Four play-in game in March. It was the second straight season that the Tigers won their play-in game as SWAC Champions to make it to the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It was the third time in the last five seasons that TSU made the Tournament.

David Culley fired

It was a huge surprise when the Texans went off the grid and hired 65-year-old career assistant coach David Culley as the head coach in January 2021. It was an even bigger shock when the team fired Culley in January after he went 4-13 in his one lone season as head coach. Culley was let go with three years remaining on his contract.