Kelvin Sampson constructs UH Cougars to go far
Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson, right, talks with forward Jarace Walker (25) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Northern Colorado, Monday, Nov. 7, 2022, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

The University of Houston men’s basketball team is looking like a team that could be poised to make another special run this season. And it’s not because of its national Top 3 ranking the past few weeks.

This edition of Kelvin Sampson’s Cougars just seems to have it all. They have talented and experienced players like Marcus Sasser, Jamal Shead and Mark Tramon and a big-time one-and-done type freshman in Jarace Walker. Then there is explosive bench depth starting with freshman Terrance Arceneaux.

But what’s interesting is listening to the Cougars’ ninth-year coach speak cautiously about this year’s team, almost putting the brakes on the enthusiasm that has become the norm around the Fertitta Center.

“The only advice I would give people who follow this team is – and this is as honest as you can possibly be – your team is never as good as you think it is and it’s never as bad as you think it is,” said Sampson, who has led the Cougars to the Final Four and Elite Eight, respectively, the last two seasons.

“Are we a great team? Absolutely not. We are not. I know what a great team looks like. I’ve had some. This one is not there yet.”

That isn’t to suggest Sampson doesn’t believe these Cougars will get there this season and have a chance for another deep run to the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four. These Cougs are just that talented.

It’s still early – just five games into the season – but you could see the signs of greatness in a runaway 83-48 win over a solid but overmatched Texas Southern team that will dominate the SWAC this season. It was also evident a few nights later when the Cougars went to Oregon in their first true road game and handled the Ducks en route to a 66-56 victory.

We will know more come next month when the Cougs host No. 18 Alabama and then go visit No. 16 Virginia. Then comes the always challenging trip through the American Athletic Conference where teams like Cincinnati and Memphis await.

“We’ve got a lot of question marks that we will have to answer as we go in December and January,” said the 67-year-old Sampson, who now has 704 career wins to his credit. “This team is going to lose games, just like everybody.

“The difference with me and most people is I don’t overreact in wins or losses. I don’t get carried away with a win and I don’t get carried away with losses. Because the next day is what’s important. Discussing it and talking about it is irrelevant to me. What’s important to me is what lesson are we learning. It’s like Ws and Ls. Ws and Ls are wisdom and lessons. You’ve got to learn. That’s what this is all about.”

But make no mistake, Sampson loves this team, and he is right to. The Cougars are good in so many ways. Sasser, the team’s leading scorer and heartbeat, can stroke it on the perimeter along with Tramon and Shead while Walker is a load to handle on the interior along with J’Wan Roberts.

UH also defends and rebounds like nobody’s business. And they play unselfish basketball together and they play for each other.

“I think our unit is our strength,” Sampson said. “We don’t have, this guy has to score for us to win. We’ve got a lot of guys.”