Sampson: "My hat is off to my team"

Oklahoma head coach Kelvin Sampson talked with about his Sooners winning a share of the Big 12 Regular Season Championship. The title is school's regular season conference championship since the 1988-89 season. Sampson's Sooners will be the No. 1 seed in the Big 12 Tournament. OU's first game will be Friday at 11:30 a.m. against the winner of Thursdays Nebraska-Missouri first round game.

The Oklahoma Sooner Men's Basketball team earned a share of the Big 12 Regular season championship Sunday with Kansas, giving OU Head Coach Kelvin Sampson his first regular season conference crown. Thanks to the Sooners regular season win over the Jayhawks, the Sooners go into the Big 12 Tournament as the No. 1 seed.

Just moments after the Sooners learned that Missouri had upset Kansas to make them co-champions, an ecstatic OU Head Coach Sampson talked with

JH: Coach, congratulations on the championship. What a season for you?

KS: "James, we are thrilled. A basketball season is a journey. We always tell our kids that there are going to be highs and lows and peaks and valley's, and for them to battle through them. I think the thing that pleases me the most about being a No. 1 seed and the Big 12 Champion this year, is that I have been in this league since its inception and this is by far the toughest Big 12 Conference that I have coached in. This is a tough league this year, and for us to come through it and be the champion is tremendous. My hat is off to our kids and our program.

"The key to this whole thing was the development of our kids. We had so many new guys and inexperienced guys. We had so many things that we had to overcome, but it all came together. You can't win a championship without great kids and really, really good players, high-character people and great player leadership. So, my hat is off to my team."

JH: Was it a tougher league this year because the bottom half of the league was more competitive? You also went on the road and won two very big games in the state of Texas and beat Kansas at home toward the end of the season, which was a key to the championship wouldn't you agree?

KS: "Yeah, we won big games. Every season James you are going to have some peaks and valleys, and when we had our valley we got right back up on a peak. That was the key to our season. We started playing well right after that valley.

"I never really thought that we were playing bad. We had a 14-point lead at Missouri and somehow lost it. We shot 54 percent and out rebounded O-State in Stillwater, and then we had Texas Tech at home, but there was no cause for alarm with us. Nobody panicked, nobody pointed fingers, nobody criticized, nobody complained because we knew we had to do. We had a good team and that is just part of the deal.

"You have got to go into every game and play great. You are going to have peaks and valleys, and we understood that. We got right back up as our defense got better, our rebounding got better and then our team got better."

JH: What does this championship mean for your program?

KS: "I think it is a tremendous, tremendous boost for us. We have been so close James to winning these conference championships. We have had our chances. You know why it is like Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton and guys like that didn't win a NBA Championship? Well, that is because they came along at the same time Michael Jordan did. How many times did we finish second or third? That is because Kansas was dominating the league at that point and finishing second to those Kansas teams was no dishonor.

"So, when people questioned why we hadn't won a conference it was because we were unlucky, not because we weren't good enough. Those other teams were just a little bit better."

JH: Now you go to the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City, where you always seem to play pretty well?

KS: "Yeah, that is exactly right. You need to be playing good this time of year, and that is the key. That is every coach's dream and every player's goal — to be at the end of their year to be playing their best basketball. We are playing good, but the thing is that when we get to Kansas City next week everybody starts over at 0-0."

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