HOUSTON HEAD COACH Kelvin Sampson
“I liked our effort again today. I like our ability to make adjustments and keep attacking. We have an identity. We know who we are. Sometimes when you’re taking over a program you’re fighting so many bad habits. You have to stay the course. This whole year has been a process for us. We’ve had defections; kids quitting, transferring, injuries, you name it. We’re down to seven scholarship guys, but look at us.
We’re playing our best basketball of the year right now. That’s an encouraging sign as we head into next year. We knew that this was going to be a process. We lost some games earlier in the year, that I didn’t mind losing, because I knew I had a bigger picture in my mind. I don’t live in a small picture world. I’ve been doing this for so long, that I knew what I wanted this team to look like.
We play hard, we compete, we rebound and we defend. It’s taken a while to get to this point, but we have a very good culture with our program now in terms of how we practice, how we behave, and how we treat each other. We have an identity. When people think of Houston basketball, they think of what we want them to think of. We’re tough and we play hard. When you have that you have something special.”
On not getting a challenge from East Carolina in the second half
“That’s the growth that we’ve had. We’ve had games where we’ve had a nice first half, but it was fool’s gold. We are what we are now. It didn’t just start with the win. You think about the Cincinnati game when L.J. (Rose) went down and broke his foot, we had the ball up eight. It’s hard to lose your point guard and make adjustments that night. Look at Jherrod (Stiggers) right now. Look at him that night, and look at him now. We’ve had time to practice and prepare.
This team’s been playing well for a while and been competing for a while. Even against Temple we led in the second half. Those are upper echelon teams. Now we’re playing South Florida, Tulane on the road and East Carolina and look how we’re playing. I wish there was more. I wish we could start the season now. I promise you our record wouldn’t be 12-18.
But, it’s not like we thought we were going to make the tournament this year. Our goal was never to make the NCAA Tournament. My goal as a head coach coming into a new program, with new players, was to establish a culture and an identity. I talked about that from day one. Now as we’re closing the season we have one, and that’s most important to me.”
On this team’s chances of making a run in the American Athletic Conference tournament
“I just want to beat Tulane on Thursday. SMU is the best team in this conference. They should win the tournament. Tulsa should finish second. Temple and Cincinnati should be right there with them. We’ve got a good shot on Thursday. Now if we win Thursday, ask me about Friday.”
On senior night
“It kind of tells you a little bit about our team that we have senior day and our senior has a broken foot. It kind of tells you a little about what this team has face all year. We had a nice little team get together last night, and the guys shared some ideas and thoughts about Mikhail (McLean) which was really nice.
Mikhail has meant a lot to our program. He’s meant a lot to me personally. This time last year I had never heard of Mikhail McLean. I didn’t know who he was. When I took the job I had never seen him play. He broke his foot before we even played a game. First time I ever saw him play was in January. I didn’t know these guys.
Two things impress me about Mikhail. The night we played Murray St. on the road, they didn’t play very well and we made a bunch of shots and held on to win. I noticed him on the bench. I saw how genuine he was. I saw his passion for his teammates and his leadership and how much he cared for them. During timeouts down the stretch, Mikhail was the guy on the bench that was holding everybody together, and giving everybody belief and it was genuine. That impressed me.
Then, the best night of his career was against Rice. He broke his foot the next day. He had 14 points and all of the sudden now we don’t have him. He has the high scoring game of his career, and having the most fun of his career and now he’s done. But, he hasn’t missed a beat. He hasn’t missed a practice. He hasn’t missed a film session. He still lifts with his team. To me he’s the ultimate teammate. He’s been a godsend for me as a head coach, and he’s been a terrific leader for our program. And, he’s graduating. Got his degree last May, and he’ll get his Master’s degree this May. He’s a special young man.”
On overcoming season ending injuries to L.J. Rose and Jherrod Stiggers
The guy that is playing better than any of your post guys breaks his foot and is done for the year. We’ve got big hearts and we’ve learned how to compete and play with toughness, and that’s all I want them to do.
Jherrod is not a point guard so I had to mold him a certain way. We learned to play through Devonta (Pollard) more. Eric Weary had to go into the starting lineup. Even though his numbers aren’t good, Eric has played a lot better.
Then Wes VanBeck gets an opportunity and he starts contributing. We’ve got two freshman in VanBeck and J.C. Washington, and look how well they played today. It’s the mark of a good team. We’re a good team. We’re not a great team, and we’re not a special team, but we’re special to ourselves and that’s what counts.”
HOUSTON SOPHMORE GUARD Jherrod Stiggers
On how he feels on how the team is playing
“We faced a lot of adversity. At the Temple game, coach told us that there are a lot of teams that quit this time of year. So, he challenged us all to play our roles and just play hard. I’m proud of my teammates.”
On if it is a dream winning four games in a row
“Not really. We’re just playing our hardest.”
On how comfortable he is playing point guard
“I don’t think I’m as comfortable because it’s a new position. I played point guard at the beginning of the year. As I’m practicing more and coach keeps motivating me as a point guard to not do too much, I’m getting more comfortable every day with him.”