Oct. 15, 2009
HOUSTON - The University of Houston men's basketball team takes its first steps of the 2009-10 season with the start of practice Friday night inside Hofheinz Pavilion.
The Cougars are scheduled to work out for about two hours, beginning at 7:30 p.m., Friday. Fans should note that Friday's practice is closed to the public.
The Cougars have been working out as a team in Hofheinz Pavilion for no more than two hours per week since Sept. 15. Prior to that, the team worked out together in the Elmer Redd Strength and Conditioning Center or in small groups at Hofheinz Pavilion since the second week of school.
Friday's workout is the first time that the Cougars can work together with the practice time counting toward the NCAA weekly limit.
With the season-opening game is a little more than a month away, head coach Tom Penders and his coaching staff won't focus on a specific opponent immediately. Instead, the staff plans to work on fundamentals early before preparing a game plan.
"I have to be careful not to move too fast and not waste time on things we hope to do," Penders said. "Early on, we will be very basic and not put too much in too soon, but you have to get your team ready to win games right off the bat."
As he begins his sixth season at Houston and his 36th season overall, Penders heads into the 2009-10 campaign with a mixture of eager anticipation and high anxiety.
"I am very excited about the start. There is a butterflies-in-the-stomach in the feeling combined with an insecure feeling that you have every year at this time, and nothing has changed. Put it this way, I am not sleeping really well right now."
Despite the tossing and turning at night at home right now, Penders said the talent level and depth of this year's team are the source of his troubles, a good problem to have.
"The competition to play is tremendous. Every day I go home thinking about different combinations of guys on the floor," Penders said. "We are very deep. In this new recruiting class, five or six of them are going to play significant minutes."
"I can't wait to get into full practice. That's what goes through my mind at this time. There is an anticipation of what we can do. This team has a lot of talent. They get along with each other really well, but they compete hard against each other."
Four starters and seven lettermen return from the 2008-09 team, which posted a 21-12 overall record and advanced to the College Basketball Invitational. It was the fourth time in the last five years that the Cougars competed in a postseason tournament and marked the fifth straight season that Houston won at least 18 games, a first in program history.
Leading the way are senior guards Aubrey Coleman and Kelvin Lewis, who are the leading returning scorers in Conference USA this season. Coleman, a Houston native, led the Cougars with 19.4 points per game and was the only player in C-USA to rank among the league's top-four individual leaders in both scoring and rebounding.
For his impressive efforts, Coleman was named the C-USA Newcomer of the Year and earned places on the USBWA and NABC All-District First Teams.
"Aubrey has worked so hard in the off-season because his game is at another level," Penders said. "There is no comparison between Aubrey last year and Aubrey this year."
Lewis earned a place on the All-Conference USA Third Team after averaging 18.0 points per game and leading the Cougars with 93 3-pointers. In addition to his scoring, the Fort Worth, Texas, native regularly was called upon to guard opponents' leading backcourt players and was named to the C-USA All-Defensive Team.
Senior center Nick Mosley is the only three-year letterman on the team and enters this season having hit each of his last 22 free throws, the second-longest streak in school history.
Junior guard Zamal Nixon emerged during the second half of the season with 13 starts in the team's final 15 games. The Brooklyn, N.Y., native averaged more than 5.0 points per game and scored 17 points with a career-high seven assists at C-USA rival SMU.
Senior forward Sean Coleman competed in 18 games with a pair of starts, while sophomore point guard Desmond Wade led the Cougars with 113 assists during his first collegiate season. Senior guard Jamon Wilson competed in five games a year ago and will add depth in the backcourt.
"To see the improvement of all the veterans is very exciting," Penders said.
In addition, the team welcomes seven newcomers to the team this year. Forwards Maurice McNeil (San Jacinto JC) and Kahmell Broughton (Kaskaskia JC) and guard Adam Brown (Collin County JC) join the team from the junior college ranks and will challenge for playing time early.
The Cougars boast the last two Class 5A Players of the Year from Louisiana in freshman guard Nick Haywood (Ouachita HS, Monroe, La.) and Kendrick Washington (Huntington HS, Shreveport, La.). Forwards Kirk Van Slyke (West Point Prep/College Park HS, The Woodlands, Texas) and Bryce Clark (Ely HS, Pompano Beach, Fla.) also join the team as decorated prep stars in 2009-10.
The Cougars open their 2009-10 season at 7 p.m., Nov. 17, inside Hofheinz Pavilion, when they play host to Nicholls State. It will be the first time that the Cougars will face the Colonels on the hardwood.
From there, the team will embark on a 10-day road swing. The Cougars open the stretch at 10:05 p.m. (CST), Nov. 21 at Nevada. Following their game with the Wolfpack, UH heads to Alaska to compete at the Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout.
At that tournament, the Cougars face Oklahoma at 10:30 p.m. (CST), Nov. 26 and meet San Diego at 10:30 p.m. (CST), Nov. 27. The Cougars' final opponent at the tournament and game time for Nov. 28 will be determined by the team's results against their first two opponents.
Fans can renew their season tickets or purchase new season tickets on-line at UHCougars.com by clicking the "Tickets" link, by calling 713-GO-COOGS (462-6647) or by visiting the Athletics Ticket Office on the first floor of the Athletics/Alumni Center during regular business hours, Monday through Friday.
Season tickets can be purchased for as low as $135.