HOUSTON -- University of Houston Head Coach Kelvin Sampson and student-athletes joined with members from the Cougars' Women's team to participate in the local Houston Basketball Media Day on Tuesday afternoon.
Sampson, who begins his second year with the Cougars in 2015-16, spoke to reporters for about 25 minutes about his team's strength and weaknesses, new Basketball facilities and the future of the program. From there, senior guard LeRon Barnes, junior forward Danrad Knowles and junior center Kyle Meyer talked with media in 1-on-1 interviews.
The Cougars open their season on Nov. 13 against Montana Tech in an exhibition game inside Hofheinz Pavilion. Houston begins the regular season at 7 p.m., Nov. 18, against Prairie View A&M inside Hofheinz Pavilion.
SECURE SEASON TICKETS
Houston fans can connect with Fan Experience Headquarters by phone, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., at 713-462-6647 and can purchase tickets online 24/7 at UHCougars.com/tickets.
Reserved 1 season tickets are now available for $250 per seat for all 18 regular-season home games, while Reserved 2 season tickets can be purchased for $150 per seat, a cost of $8.33 per game.
As an added benefit, fans who purchase Reserved 1 Men's Basketball season tickets will receive the same number of Houston Women's Basketball season tickets FREE.
For the first time in 2015-16, fans also can purchase $99 Anytime season tickets. With Anytime season tickets, fans will receive one ticket for each of the 18 regular-season home games at a cost of only $5.50 per game.
From there, fans can use their Anytime tickets any way they like. They can use one ticket for each home game or take 17 friends to one home game or any combination in between.
As always, current University of Houston students are admitted free with valid IDs to Houston Men's Basketball games inside Hofheinz Pavilion. Fans can view a Hofheinz Pavilion map with season-ticket pricing by clicking here.
Fans should stay tuned to UHCougars.com and Houston Men's Basketball social media sites for the latest information about ticket sales.
Fans can receive the latest news and notes by following @UHCougarMBK on Twitter. Fans also can discuss the latest Houston Men's Basketball news and notes on the team's Facebook page by clicking LIKE at HoustonCougarMensHoops.
"The strength of this team is our depth and our versatility. We have a little bit of a Noah's Ark thing going. We have two or three point guards, two or three 2s, two or three 3s, two or three 4s, a couple of fives. We have guys that can play more than one position.
Our versatility is important. Over the course of the season you have games where you're going to have to play small and you have games where you're going to have to play a little bit bigger depending on your match up, but I like this team; really a hard working team. I've always liked teams that tend to be a little more player coached versus the coach having to do everything. This team has some really good leaders. Guys that take a lot of pride in what they're doing. I like our team, and we'll see what happens as we go along. We've had two practices thus far. Things start to figure themselves out. A lot people think coaches make all the decisions but in reality players make most of the decisions because for every action there is a reaction. Whoever plays good, I choose them. If a guy is not playing good then he's not playing good. We have to find a way to make him play better, but we have some good players.
And then the other thing is our depth. We have 10 guys that I feel comfortable putting in a basketball game but I think what really helps us is practice. Last year we finished the season with 7 scholarship players and although that team won four in a row down the stretch, we were up seven in the second half for our last game. Sometimes it felt like we were getting better and the way you get better especially in college basketball is through competition and practice. What I'm excited about is how we're competing and practicing everyday.
On depth being the biggest difference from 2014-15 team
"Depth is just one of the differences. Everything is different. This time last year, I had never seen these guys play before. This time last year, I had never even see Jherrod Stiggers in a game. Coming from the NBA, I hadn't followed college basketball at all. Last year, I was in the dark. We just weren't very good.
A lot of people were waiting for us to get good. We didn't have the capability of being good, but that was more of a personnel thing. As my grandmother would say, `Bless their hearts.' They tried hard. They just were not good enough. This team is going to be good enough.
(Tulsa head coach) Frank Haith would be the first one to tell you. It was a pretty good situation that he inherited with five starters coming back from a NCAA Tournament team. We didn't inherit that. I had guys walking up to me in the hallway and asking for transfer releases and I said `now, what's your name?'
Last year doesn't compare to anything I have been through in my life. But this year we were able to go out and recruit a team instead of just recruiting guys that filled out our roster. We recruited a team to help us win games. That's the biggest difference.
We have strengths up and down the board but mainly depth. Last year our starting center was Chicken (Danrad Knowles). He started 31 games at the five spot, and I don't think he ever weighed a pound over 195. Our back-up five was JC Washington. He's 6-4 ¾ . That was it. Our four man was Devonta (Pollard)] and our back up was Mikhail (McLean). We didn't have another post guy.
This year, right now, Devonta would probably start at the four, and I'm not sure who the back-up would be. I really like the way Xavier Dupree is playing. We've got Xavier Dupree and Chicken (Danrad Knowles). At the five spot, you've got Kyle Meyer and Bertrand Nkali. Bert, who we thought would be our starter last year, torn his groin about this time of year. He went to Philadelphia to have surgery and he was lost for the year. That affected our depth.
We were putting guys in positions that they shouldn't have been in. For instance, Chicken (Danrad Knowles) didn't sign up to play the five spot. That just gives you the difference in our personnel. We've got guys in the right position. Chicken (Danrad Knowles) should be defending guys on the perimeter or mid-post, not to say he won't play there. If we were to go small, maybe we would play Chicken (Danrad Knowles) there... who knows? He's not going to stay at the five spot.
This time last year, we didn't have a point guard. L.J. [Rose] had come off his second broken bone in his foot, and I don't think we got hit until mid-December. Right now, I have two point guards who can start. Galen Robinson could absolutely start at point guard for this team but so could Ronnie Johnson. L.J. [Rose] hasn't practiced yet because he's still going through conditioning. He just got cleared to do stuff on Sunday, so we really haven't seen him yet.
On impact of China trip
"The China trip really enforced a lot of what we do. Usually the first three or four months is mostly instruction, teaching and learning. I did that in July and August. We started practice July 28, and we left Aug. 10 for Beijing. We are already much further along. Forget last year's team; nothing compares to that. We're further along than any team that I've coached at this point, except for those teams that went on foreign trips.
I've been experimenting with lineups. I have one line up with Ronnie Johnson, Galen Robinson, Damyean Dotson, Devonta Pollard, Kyle Meyer. I've also experimented with a line up of Ronnie [Johnson], LeRon Barnes, [Damyean Dotson], Chicken and Kyle [Meyer]. That's the strength of this team. We've got a lot of ways we can go. Bottom line is we have a really good bench. There are going to be some nights when you don't really see much of a difference between them and who starts the game. I told the team yesterday (that) we don't have a first team or a second team. We just have 10 Coogs, and that's the way I prefer it."
On Danrad Knowles and his improvement
There's always times in young men's lives where they make the decision whether they really want to do something. Is it important to them? The thing I've observed with Chicken is just getting into the gym working on his game. Not every kid loves basketball. There are some that love to play but very few that love to work. There's a big difference in those two areas. Because they all have a uniform on and our here on scholarship, they aren't all the same. They all approach things differently. Some are analytical. Some are pragmatic. Some are very simple.
There are some guys that can get a scratch on their shoulder and they may be out for two days. There are some like LeRon Barnes who can get 20 stitches and not miss a play. Everybody is different, but I'm anxious to see. I do think he's a better player. Sometimes a guy like Chicken (Danrad Knowles) forgets to compete. He wanders and his mind wanders instead of focusing on competing.
Our practices are purposely set up to where everything is competitive. In everything we do, there's a winner and a loser. There actually is a winner and loser in everything we do; winners clap, losers run. We try to instill the most important thing at this time of year because this is when you form your identity. Every team is going to be known for something. The good thing about this time of year is that we get to determine what that something is and, for us, we want it to be really competitive.
One of the things I liked about last year's team was that they competed, even if they had no chance. That's why in nine of our last 11 games we led nine of those games at halftime, including at Cincinnati on the road, Cincinnati at home, at Temple and at Memphis. When the heat turned on in the kitchen, we just couldn't make baskets or score enough points to stay in some of those games. We figured out how we could win games by shooting low percentages. We figured out the importance of offensive rebounding and the importance of valuing possessions. It took that team a while to learn how to win, and it's going to take this team a while to learn how to win, but this team has a lot more material."
On expectations for the team
This team is going to win a lot of games. There are a lot of things that are obviously out of your control, but I have always believed in a process. The process is more important than a goal. What am I willing to do to achieve that goal and I believe that's far more important than the goal itself."
On selling the history and tradition of the program
"When they are sorting out the top 50 players in the history of basketball, how many schools have three players in the top 50? That's something to be proud of.
The thing that has really held Houston back over the years is the lack of commitment to help the basketball program. They have done a good job of hiring coaches, but they haven't done a good job of making this program better. That starts with the administration, and that's why I'm really happy about what (former Vice President for Athletics) Mack Rhoades did before he left, what (University of Houston Chancellor/President Renu) Khator has committed to and what (Vice President for Ahtletics) Hunter (Yurachek) continues to do.
You don't build programs for your coach. Coaches come and go, but this program will be here forever. In a sense practice is the wrong terminology for the practice center. It's a development center, because we don't practice there. You practice where you play, and we play in Hofheinz Pavilion, so that's where we'll practice. Our kids will be developed in the development center. That's a huge chip for us and it really is a game changer.
We have had two kids visit this fall so far on official visits, and they both committed. When I read their quotes from when they were interviewed on why they chose the University of Houston, I got goose bumps when I read `because of the facilities,' because I saw what this place was like when I first walked in here. A school like Houston doesn't take long to become good. This program can be really good. I actually think they can be special and I think I've said that before. I mean that."