Kelvin Sampson Is Helping Houston Basketball Turn the Corner

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 13th, 2016

Kelvin Sampson walked into a postgame press conference last week and strangely had difficulty getting his words out. He appeared to be fighting a toothache or something like that, but he quickly explained himself. “I put a Tootsie Roll in my mouth,” Sampson said, smirking. “That was a bad idea.” As he puts together another college hoops reclamation project — this time at Houston — Sampson can’t help but feel relaxed enough to pop in a Tootsie Roll before a press conference. His Cougars had just finished off Tulane before 3,235 fans at Hofheinz Pavilion to move to 13-2 on the year. It was yet another easy win in the career of a coach who has tallied a lot of them, but it wasn’t always this easy.

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson watches his Cougars rack up another home victory over Tulane. Houston improved to 10-0 at home. (Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle)

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson watches his Cougars rack up another home victory over Tulane. Houston is now 10-0 at home. (Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle)

Sampson’s inaugural season at Houston in 2014-15 was predictably difficult. The Cougars went 13-19, good for a 10th place finish in the 11-team American. Many of their issues centered on a lack of consistent scoring (64.4 points per game — 234th nationally). During the offseason, Sampson was scouring the transfer market to improve his team’s scoring when he stumbled upon Rob Gray, Jr., a shooting guard from Howard College. Gray was in the midst of winding down his recruitment process and had just enjoyed dinner with then-Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall and his coaching staff on March 26. The next morning, Tyndall was fired by Tennessee. Sampson quickly pounced on the opening and got Gray to commit to an official visit before signing him in mid-April. Read the rest of this entry »

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Houston Transfers Leading Offensive Surge

Posted by Jared Kotler on December 11th, 2015

Going into Tuesday night’s matchup against Rhode Island, Houston had been a pleasant surprise. The Cougars’ 5-0 record looked great, even if all of their games had come at home against subpar opponents (none ranked higher than #143, according to KenPom). However, a road game against a team picked to finish near the top of the Atlantic 10 represented Houston’s first attempt to compete with legitimate teams. Kelvin Sampson‘s team ended up falling short against the Rams, but it showed in the loss that an improved offense will make the Cougars a tough out in the American this season.

Purdue transfer Ronnie Johnson is leading the Houston offense to new heights this season. Photo Credit: Ronnie Johnson Twitter

Purdue transfer Ronnie Johnson is leading the Houston offense to new heights this season. (Photo: Twitter)

To say Houston was bad offensively last year would be an understatement, as the Cougars ranked no higher than 200th in every KenPom offensive category but one, offensive rebounding percentage. In Sampson’s second year, however, Houston appears to have turned the corner, ranking in the top 100 of almost every category to date. Transfers Rob GrayRonnie Johnson and Damyean Dotson have joined a mix of veteran returnees in allowing the Cougars to employ a more fluid and successful offense. 

Gray, a JuCo transfer, has quickly settled in. He has scored in double figures in every game so far, including a 14-point outing against this week against the Rams. In addition to being a consistent scorer, Gray has been one of the team’s most effective three-point shooters, making 40 percent of his shots. Gray’s backcourt mate Johnson has been even more effective, as evidenced by his sensational 136.3 offensive rating (23rd in the nation). However, the Purdue transfer struggled in his first game against tough competition, recording only two points on 1-of-7 shooting. It could easily be a random anomaly, but if Houston would like to make a run in the American, Johnson will need to play at a high level against every level of competition. Dotson, the most highly regarded of the trio, submitted a 19/12 double-double in the losing effort against Rhode Island, but he has a sterling offensive rating of his own (121.2) and will be called upon to continue the scoring touch that he brought over from Oregon.

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