Cougars' journey to Final Four proves strength in numbers
Houston forward Justin Gorham (4) and Marcus Sasser (0) celebrate a play against Syracuse in the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Without question, University of Houston men’s basketball coach Kelvin Sampson has assembled some great individual talent on this season’s squad.

Quentin Grimes, Caleb Mills, Dejon Jarreau, Marcus Sasser, Nate Hinton and Fabian White are all talented basketball players. But it has been Sampson’s ability to convince them that their sum is far more important than their individual talents.

That belief has gotten the No.2 Cougars back to the Final Four for the first time in 37 years. The Coogs will take on No.1 Baylor on Saturday in Indianapolis for the right to play for the national title Monday night.

Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson celebrates beating Syracuse 62-46 after a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 27, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

“We may not have the brightest lights, but our lights shine as bright as anybody else’s because it’s all about team,” Sampson said. “DeJon all by himself is pretty good, but he’s a lot better together. Quentin Grimes, good player by himself, but he’s a lot better together with the rest of these kids.

“We’ve taken a group of kids to get them to believe, and they’ve accomplished something that they will — no matter what happens this weekend, it’s something that nobody can take from them, and they’ll always be known as a Final Four participant. They played in the Final Four. They earned it too. I mean, they earned it.”

The Coogs certainly have. They kicked open the doors to the Final Four with Monday night’s 67-61 NCAA Tournament regional finals win over 12-seed Oregon State. Now these Cougars will be mentioned in the same breath as the famed “Phi Slama Jama” squad, which included Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, that took UH all the way to the national title game in 1984.

Now Grimes, Sasser and Jarreau have a chance to make their own history this weekend.

“Man, it’s like a dream come true,” Jarreau said. “Growing up, watching the Final Four, watching college basketball, you always think about getting to this point, seeing former players on TV do this. Like I said, as a kid, I’m watching TV growing up, and I’m like I hope I’ll be here one day, and man, I’m really here.”

Now the thought is about making history, and it starts Saturday.

“Never thought I’d see this day, and God has other plans for people,” Jarreau said. “God has a plan for me and my teammates. We’re here for a reason.”

But Sampson also wants them to enjoy the journey and savor the moment.

“This memory will last them a lifetime,” said Sampson, who has now coached a team to the Final Four for the second time in his career. “They’ll tell their grandchildren about this. Their mothers and fathers, their families and friends were watching them and experiencing it from afar. But these guys put in the work. They all had their story. They’ve all had to battle through adversity to come together as a team.”

 Follow Terrance Harris on Twitter @terranceharris