Kelvin Sampson interviewed for a couple of NBA head coaching jobs. He even thought that one of them was going to happen.
But instead of coaching professionals in the Association, Sampson is back on campus, twelve practices deep into his new role as the head coach at the University of Houston. How excited is he to be in the college game and calling the shots again?
“It is like Christmas Day, the 4th of July and my birthday all rolled into one,” he said Tuesday at the Cougars Media Day.
The challenges were immediate and mighty. Transfers depleted his new team to where he had a roster with just five players. Commitments for quality non-conference games disappeared. Tournament invitations never got finalized. But nothing has seemed to temper Sampson’s excitement. In fact he has embraced the instruction part of coaching.
“Everything that we are going to do on the court, we have had to put in and teach,” he said. “It is hard sometimes to judge your progress because you are constantly teaching something.”
Junior Guard Jherrod Stiggers admits he has completely bought into what the new regime is preaching. What does Sampson bring to the youthful roster?
“Toughness.” Stiggers answers before the question is even completely asked. “He pushes every player to their highest peak. He makes them do things they have never done before. He says, ‘you want to go where you have never been, you have to do what you have never done.’”
The former Rockets assistant and interim head coach understands the leadership involved in coaching a young college team after previously working with the likes of Dwight Harden and James Harden.
“When I stand in front of this team and look at 14 sets of eyes, those kids are looking to me for guidance and leadership and to give them an address they can plug into their GPS so they know where they are going,” he explained. “I love that. I have always loved that.”
Sampson admits he didn’t know any high school kids before taking the job. He didn’t even know who the top high school players in the country were, much less the high school players in the city of Houston. You can bet he does now. Establishing relationships with the area high school coaches in underway.
“I think you have to make a concerted effort to recruit the city of Houston,” he said. “But there is a difference in recruiting the best players and the right players.”
Sampson also believes his NBA experience has provided him with a tremendous wealth of experience to draw upon back in the college game.
“For the last six years I got the best seat in the house to watch the best players in the world and I learned a lot. I learned a lot from them. I learned a lot from the other coaches I was with. I think the game taught me a lot. So it was good for me. I think I am a much better coach today than I ever was because of that experience.”
The Cougars kick off the 2014-2014 Season on November 14th at Murray State before their home opener Saturday November 22nd against Morgan State.
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