When Kelvin Sampson took the job at Houston, he had a vision of how to rebuild the once-proud program.
In four seasons, Sampson has been a miracle worker: The program ended a nearly decade-long NCAA drought — and came within a buzzer-beating 3-pointer of a trip to the Sweet 16 last season — and the school built a $25 million practice facility that rivals any in the nation. The next step comes Dec. 1 when Houston opens a renovated $60 million on-campus arena, funded partly by university board of regents chairman and Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta.
“I’m excited about what we’ve accomplished,” Sampson says. “But that’s over with.”
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Kelvin Sampson
2017-18 RECORD (AAC): 27-8 (14-4)
2017-18 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Michigan 64-63 in the second round
F Devin Davis (10.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg)
G Rob Gray (19.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 4.4 apg)
F Wes Van Beck (6.1 ppg)
Houston played in waves last season, a recipe that could be reprised in 2018-19.
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Breaon Brady, a 6'8", 250-pound Ohio native, started all but four games at center in his first season out of junior college, but he averaged only 12.5 minutes. Brady needs to cut down on his fouls (3.0 per game) to stay on the court more as a senior. Chris Harris is another post player who will need to contribute more this season.
A 6'7" forward, Fabian White Jr. made big strides in the second half of his freshman season, finishing with 32 blocks and earning a spot on the AAC All-Rookie Team. He has developed his game and could be one of Houston’s best shooters inside 15 feet.
Quite possibly the most intriguing player is Cedrick Alley Jr., a small forward who had his freshman season wiped out by a hip flexor injury. Alley, the 2017 Mr. Basketball in the state of Texas, has the versatility to play multiple roles.
Brison Gresham sat out last season after joining his close friend, guard DeJon Jarreau, in transferring from UMass. Gresham gives Sampson a big man who is athletic enough to run in Houston’s fast-paced tempo.
Corey Davis Jr. is the top returning scorer after the graduation of playmakers Damyean Dotson and Rob Gray in consecutive seasons. A former junior college All-American, Davis averaged 15.1 points and shot 43.5 percent from 3 in conference games. He had a streak of 29 straight games with at least one 3-pointer.
Armoni Brooks is expected to move into a more prominent role after being named Sixth Man of the Year in the AAC. He averaged 9.3 points in only 20.1 minutes of action.
Point guard Galen Robinson Jr. is the fastest player on the roster, the top defender and one of the team’s leaders. He will be brought along slowly following offseason surgery for a broken bone in his left foot but will be ready for the start of the season.
Jarreau played in 31 games as a freshman at UMass in 2016-17 and was among the nation’s best in assists per possession. He is versatile and athletic enough to play the 1, 2 and 3 positions.
Houston went into the ACC’s backyard to land Nate Hinton, a shooting guard who is regarded as the program’s top signee since Sampson’s arrival. “He’s going to be really good,” the coach says.
Landon Goesling, a transfer from Division II St. Edward’s, could fill the void as a 3-point specialist off the bench.
After three consecutive 20-win seasons, Houston is primed to take the next step and challenge in what should be a wide-open AAC race. The Cougars will play the November home schedule off-campus at Texas Southern University, where they went 15–0 last season, before christening the 7,100-seat Fertitta Center on Dec. 1 against Oregon.
“The goal here is not to make the tournament,” Sampson says. “The goal here is to win the tournament. Now we move forward.”
Postseason Prediction: One & Done
AAC Prediction: 2nd