It’s been a long time coming, but it appears University of Houston basketball has finally made a comeback. The Cougars helped usher in the golden age of modern college basketball in the late ‘60s with the “game of the century” between Elvin Hayes’ Cougars vs. Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and the UCLA Bruins in the Astrodome in 1968.
The program also dominated in the ‘80’s, going to three consecutive Final Fours and back- to-back Finals appearances. They also gave college basketball its most elite fraternity ever, Phi Slama Jama.
Things are trending up for Cougar basketball. They finished the 2017-18 season tied for second with Wichita State in the tough American Athletic Conference. They finished the season with a 27-8 overall record, 14-4 in conference play. They were a perfect 15-0 at home.
The Cougars received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament and earned their first tournament victory since 1984 in a thrilling 67-65 win over San Diego State. They fell just a buzzer-beater short from advancing to the Sweet 16 in a loss to eventual NCAA national championship game finalist Michigan.
Nationally they finished 21st in the in the final Associated Press poll and 22nd in the final USA Today coaches’ poll. It marked the first time since 1984 that the Cougars finished a season ranked among the top 25 in a national poll and was only the 10th time in school history.
Now in his fourth season as head coach, Kelvin Sampson has the program headed in the right direction. Because of the Cougars’ success Sampson was recognized as the American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year.
With that announcement, he collected the fifth conference Coach of the Year award from the fourth different league during his career. He was previously honored as the Coach of the Year in 1995 (Big Eight, Oklahoma), 1991 (PAC-10, Washington State) and 1984-1985 (Frontier, Montana Tech).
As further proof that the Cougar program is trending upward nationally, the team recently became the latest member of the exclusive Jordan Brand roster. Coming off the Cougars’ 20th appearance in the NCAA tournament, the team’s uniforms will now feature the Jumpman logo for the 2018-19 season, and the men will be outfitted in the latest Jordan Brand performance footwear.
With the addition of the Cougars, Jordan Brand now has presence in six NCAA Division I conferences: American Athletic, ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten and SEC.
If that wasn’t enough for Cougar hoop fans to get excited about, we’ve saved the best for last. Beginning with the 2018 season the team will be make its debut in the Fertitta Center, the $60 million arena named Tillman Fertitta, chair of the UH Board of Regents and Rockets’ owner.
The new playpen will be a totally renovated Hofheinz Pavilion with state-of-the-art amenities that will please fans and potential recruits.
“What’s the first thing you show [a recruit]? You show the arena he’s going to play in,” Sampson said. “With the Fertitta Center we can’t wait. Matter of fact, we may be opening their car door before if stops to put them in there as quickly as we can. Now we can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the giants and expect to compete.”