Full Court Press with Kelvin Sampson

With the beginning of the University of Houston basketball season just a few short weeks away (November the 8th versus North Alabama in an exhibition game at Hofheinz Pavilion), new head coach Kelvin Sampson was gracious enough to sit down and talk with Coogfans.com about the upcoming season at their annual basketball Media Day;

Q.) With preseason practices having begun two weeks ago, how has the team looked and have your expectations changed based on what you have or haven’t seen thus far?

KS: Well honestly there were no expectations to begin with since I’ve never seen these guys play together before. Plus the guy we thought was going to be our starting point guard (L.J. Rose) is out with a broken foot and we’re not really expecting him back before conference play, and if he doesn’t return we’ll just go to plan B. As far as how we look, we’re better today than we were during our first practice which was October the 6th. Basically we’re not at a point where we’re worrying about expectations. We’re just trying to figure out who our point guard and backup point is going to be. We’ve played some musical chairs at that spot. We signed a JC kid in May (Cavon “Chuck” Baker) who played some point guard his last year of college. We’ve also got the walk-on (Wes VanBeck). We thought L.J. was coming back but it is what it is. We’re just trying to band-aide this thing together until we can build a cohesive unit.

Q.) How do the players on the current roster fit into what you want to run scheme wise on offense and defense this season?

KS: I think they fit in good. Jherrod Stiggers, Leron Barnes and L.J., when he plays, fit in really well with what we want to do as well as Eric Weary and Torian Graham. Offensively we’re going to play at a great pace, we’re going to shoot a lot of 3’s and that’s something I think these guys can do going into our first year here. Now there are some things that we don’t have but we have time to get that. If we were on a six month time frame I’d be worried. The thing that set us back was all the transfers. When you take over a program and all of a sudden 6 guys up and leave, including 4 seniors, well it’s tough. I think we had 5 holdovers when we got here. I’ll tell you this though; I love the kids we do have. I’m not going to talk about the kids who that transferred. Stiggers, Barnes, Rose, (Mikhail) McLean – that group has been tremendous and they’ve been great with the new guys. And the new guys have jumped in with both feet and bought into what we’re trying to do and we’ve had great practices. We’ve really gotten better each day.

Q.) And how does that “pace” equate to the defensive side of the ball? Can we look forward to seeing various traps and presses this season?

KS: Well I’ve never pressed in my life and I’m not even sure I would know how to. We will pressure and there is a difference between pressure and pressing. We’ll use our athleticism in different ways; We can play some 1-3-1 half court traps. We can trap ball screens. We can trap the post. There are a lot of different ways to pressure rather than pressing.

Q.) Playing fast probably takes a lot of bodies. How many do you see in the rotation?

KS: I’d like to get to where we’re playing 8 or 9 or maybe more. I’ve never seen these guys play in a game before and the kids who were here last year we just saw a little film of but that’s it, so basically I’m just learning them as I go and really don’t have any expectations for them yet. We just want them to be as good as they can be as we establish our culture and getting our kids to understand what we hang our hats on in every game and every day in practice. That’s more important to me right now than anything. And with the kids who are injured, don’t rush them back. It’s better to get them back later than earlier especially when you’re talking about foot fractures.

Q.) Are there any team leaders or surprise players emerging yet through these early practices?

KS: Well we’ve only had the three guys from last year’s team who’ve been able to practice; Danrad Knowles, Stiggers and Barnes and all three of those guys have really done a great job. Stiggers and Barnes have been consistent day in and day out along with their effort and attitude. Those two guys have really stood out. I’m excited for all the kids and can’t be more pleased with their efforts and every day we strive to get a little better.

Q.) What’s your philosophy on scheduling? It’s been said that at UH not only is winning important, but who you play matters to the fans. Your thoughts?

KS: I agree with them whole-heartily. We had an agreement with Georgetown for a game in early December and they pulled out, I can’t remember the reason but it was agreed to be played but there was no contract. When we got here there were no games scheduled so we had to find what we could find. We also did have an agreement to play LSU I think December the 28th or 29th and they called and wanted it pushed back to a later date. So we were going to play games at Georgetown and LSU and I do want games like that on our schedule every year.

Q.) How do you plan on using your ties to the pro game in regards to recruiting? Have Clyde and Dream been in touch?

KS: Yes and Clyde and Dream have been fantastic. We really haven’t used them in recruiting yet but I do know that whatever they’re allowed to do within the rules they’ll be happy to do.

Q.) You mentioned culture earlier. How do you change the culture of a program which talks about Phi Slama Jama like it was yesterday when in reality this program has only been to four NCAA tournaments in the past 30 years and hasn’t won a game in the tourney since the Final Four versus Virginia in 1984?

KS: Just continue doing what we’ve been doing. I think because of the programs we’ve been on before (Washington State, Oklahoma, Indiana) that we have a good formula for success and I don’t deviate from it. It all starts with the toughness we play with and how we play defense, which carries into rebounding which gets us into our pace on offense. We’re going to play an entertaining style of basketball. We’re going to get up and down the court. We’re going to shoot 3’s and I think the fans will have a lot of fun watching us play.

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