HOUSTON HEAD COACH Kelvin Sampson
“I told our guys after the game that one of the most important things we’re going to do here is form an identity of who we are and what we’re going to be known for. That may be one of the most important things that we can do this year.
“Every team is known for something. Before you can become good, you have to get an identity. It’s taken me until the middle of January to teach Chicken (Danrad) how to compete. He had no clue how to compete. There’s a huge difference in someone playing hard versus competing.
When you have the deficiencies that we have on the inside and interior, our only chances are to outcompete people. That’s not easy to do. I knew that we would become a better basketball team when I didn’t have to go to practice every day and coach effort. If I’m spending all my time coaching effort, then we’re not getting better in basketball.”
“This game today, for 40 minutes, I was proud of my team. They competed. They played their hearts out. The team we played was a good team. There’s a reason Tulane won at Memphis, at East Carolina, had a chance to win at Temple. This is a good team.
“But we bowed up, and we played them nose-to-nose for 40 minutes. We missed some free throws down the stretch. We had a bad foul with single digits on the shot clock. We made a poor decision in transition, little things like that, but we’re getting better. Our practices are getting better. We’re learning how to compete harder. Those are things that are positives that will play well for us as we go forward.”
On moving closer to forming an identity
“Tonight was our identity. How hard we play, how hard we competed. I didn’t have one guy that I was disappointed in his effort. We’re good enough to play with a lot of these teams. Tonight’s game was decided in the last 30, 40 seconds, East Carolina in the last 20 seconds. Arkansas-Pine Bluff overtime, UCF overtime, Boise State overtime.
To have a great year, you win all your close games. I’ve had years like that. You say ‘wow, look at all those wins.’ The games could have gone either way. We won all those games.”
“Right now, the games that could go either way, we’re not winning them. One of the things that hurts us is depth. We just don’t have a lot of bodies that we can put out there or that can help us win. I only played seven guys today.”
On progress of changing culture
“We’re making progress on it. Culture is something you build on every day. We talk about it directly and indirectly every day. Look at the differences in Chicken (Danrad) today versus two months ago. Two months ago he was almost comatose. But there’s probably nobody on this team I’ve ridden harder and challenged more in practice every day.
At some point, coaches can’t let kids fail. You have to get them to believe in themselves sometimes. Chicken had no idea how good of a player he could be. When I got here, he saw himself as the sixth or seventh best player. He didn’t have that mentality.
Now, he’s a major part in everything we do. We put him out to the 3-point line, so we make these centers go out and guard him. Chicken gives up a lot inside. When that ball hits the rim, you know, he’s 188 pounds; the guy he was guarding today was 260. He does his best. We’re not going to be this size-deficient forever.
I love J.C. Washington, J.C. is 6-4 and he weighs 215. He’s our backup center. They hurt us in the area today. We had a bad foul with single digits on the shot clock. They didn’t make those mistakes. Their guy has been there for five years. His team is in place; he’s got kids that he’s coached through their junior year, senior years. We’re going to be there one day.”
On Danrad Knowles’ potential
“It comes down to consistency. He had a good game tonight, but we’ve got a game Wednesday. We don’t give out individual awards. It’s about leading your team to win. There is a time and score situation. It’s all about teaching. We had the lead and LJ had a great decision of pushing the ball in transition and kicked it out to Jherrod for a potential corner three in transition. That’s an open shot; good shot for us. He skipped it to Danrad. I can’t remember if he traveled or turned it over, but those are timely score situations. He has to learn that.
He’s learning on the fly. Danrad’s a sophomore but he just doesn’t have a lot of experience. He’s going through things for the first time. He has a chance, but he has to show me everyday how important practice is. I’ve never seen an outstanding player that wasn’t a great practice player.”
On team chemistry on the floor
“We made strides in that tonight. All the games we’re playing now, Memphis obviously with the frontline we have, is a hard match up, SMU is going to be a hard matchup; also Cincinnati. Teams that are 6’10 or 6’9, 250 across the frontline are a hard match. We can’t do a whole lot about that. Tonight, our zone was good. We’re putting different stuff in. We were trapping out of the zone tonight. We put that in at practice. It gave us a great chance tonight.
We’re just getting everybody to play to their ceilings. That’s what coaches do. My job is to get every player to maximize his abilities. That’s what I’m trying to do. Getting Danrad to believe he’s better, to expect more and set higher standers. (He has to) Raise his level of expectations of himself first. Forget what everyone else says: What is your expectation of yourself? He didn’t have a very high one. Sometimes before they’re going to believe in themselves you’ve got to believe in them.
Look at Devonta (Pollard) tonight. Look at Jherrod (Stiggers) tonight. He couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat, but he did a great job of guarding (Louis) Dabney in the second half. We couldn’t guard him in the first half, so I switched and put Jherrod on him, and Jherrod did a great job. Everybody did something really good tonight. We just came up a little short on the scoreboard tonight.”
On Jherrod struggling at the three point line
“No I don’t want him driving. Obviously, those thoughts run through your head, but if he’s going to play on this team he has to shoot open threes. Obviously, if he made a couple tonight we might have won. If L.J. made his free throws we might have won. If Danrad didn’t turn over the ball we might have won. You pour through a lot of things during the game. He was 2-15 last game and 2-13 previous, so he’s 4-28. That’s hard for your best scorer, but it shows how much our team is improving if he goes 2-13 or 0-8, and we have a chance to win the game.
Danrad’s playing better, Devonta is coming around again. Chuck (Cavon Baker) came off the bench. Mikhail gave us some moments. We just don’t have a great margin of error in these games, but we played very well offensively outside of not making any threes.
All these things are teaching moments. Danrad got a technical, which he didn’t know was also a personal foul or a common foul. At the time that gave him his second or third foul, but also was a five point play. All of those things we can clean up, and that’s all I care about. From here until March 15h this will be a successful year for us if we can continue on the path we’re on and have a culture. I think back, and we’ve gone from April 3 to January 17 and the team finally looks like I want them to look. It’s taking them that long, but this year will be over soon enough, and when next season starts we will start where we finish. We won’t have to start over again. That’s what I’m excited about.”
On Eric Weary Jr. not appearing in the game
“Eric Weary was late to shoot around at 7:30 this morning. He didn’t quite make it to the court on time. That’s part of your culture.”
On coaching style with lack of depth
“X’s and O’s wise I have to coach around it. Danrad is 6’10, but he can’t post up. That’s what the summer is for. You don’t all of a sudden become a great basketball player in the middle of the season. Basketball players are made from March to October. Basketball teams are made from October to March. That’s part of the culture: teaching these kids that.
When Danrad goes into the summer he has to become a more reliable shooter. A more reliable free throw shooter, and he has to be a catch and face guy from inside 10 feet, and get to the free throw line. He was shooting 44% from the free throw line coming into today. Today he went 7-for-9. He should have really been 9-for-9, because Danrad is a good free throw shooter. Mentally he’s learning to tighten things up, so his expectation level will go up. When that goes up all these things across the board will be good. He’s not going to average 31 points, but Danrad down the road can be an all-conference player.”
HOUSTON SOPHOMORE Danrad Knowles FORWARD
On if Coach Kelvin Sampson’s coaching clicked for him
“I just gave in. He told me to practice harder, so I started practicing harder this whole month. I try to go harder every day. I’m trying to get better. He tells me to be aggressive every time.”
On having a career day, but still losing
“It’s very disappointing. I thought about the game the whole night. I didn’t really sleep much. We have Cincinnati on Wednesday, and we’re going to be aggressive again.”