Guy V. Lewis Development Facility Houston Tuesday, Nov. 1 | 11 am CDT
HOUSTON HEAD COACH KELVIN SAMPSON
"We had a good year last year. The significant thing about last year is that we beat everybody in our league. We won at Connecticut, Temple, Cincinnati, SMU, Tulsa, and Memphis. That was a big step. The program should get better and better each year. That's just the way it's set up.
We had the chance to improve our team. The goal every year should be to get to the NCAA Tournament. To be in the position to compete for that, a lot of good things have to happen. Your best players have to have good years, have to have key guys healthy every night, balance the whistle and foul trouble. All of those things have to factor in. I like our team, and I like our leadership. Leadership can be a lot of things, but if its not selfless, then its not leadership."
On junior forward Devin Davis filling void left by Devonta Pollard...
"There are some things that Devin Davis is better at than Devonta Pollard, and there are some things that Devonta was better at, but they're both good. Devonta was one of the top 7 or 8 players in this conference, and Devin is going to be very similar to that.
"The biggest difference is contact rebounding. A lot of guys can rebound vs. air. If all I had to do was fight molecules, I usually could get it. Devin is 237 (pounds). Devonta was 194 (pounds); that's a 40-pound difference. Devin can go up in a crowd and create space with his body.
"Devonta's body wasn't made for defensive rebound. His body was made for offensive rebounding. He used his quickness to get an angle to either keep it live or go get it. Devin is a big strong kid, but he's also athletic. Not as athletic as Devonta... Devonta was a world-class athlete. For 6-7, 237 (pounds), Devin is pretty athletic. Both are pretty good medium-range shooters.
"Devonta's strength was getting to the foul, line and that's how we used him. We would create space and take advantage of his match ups against bigger post guys. That's how we won a lot of games last year, especially down the stretch using him in that position. Devin is a good 1-on1 player too, but the difference is the guys around him have improved. Devin is going to be a good player for us."
On getting into the NCAA Tournament...
"I don't know if its anything I'm doing. It's just that our guys are a year older and a year better. This time last year, I had never seen them play. I said we would be good this time last year, but it was reserved. I have had 28 teams, so I know what a good team looks like. I know what a great team looks like, and I thought we were going to be pretty good."
"This year there are no question marks about a true freshman. Galen Robinson is now a sophomore, and Rob Gray's a junior. Those guys have been through the wars and were a part of a lot of great wins. Daymean Dotson hadn't played in 18 months. He had to sit out a year, so there were a lot of question marks about him. I could tell he was going to be a good player. It was just going to take him a while to get his legs under him.
"We had a lot of new guys last year, and we got better as we went along. We were much better in January. February and March were our best months. I did not like the fact that we had to wait eight days between our last game and our next game. You like to have a flow going at that time of the year.
"This year Galen Robinson, Rob Gray, Daymean Dotson, Chicken (Danrad Knowles), Kyle Meyer, Bertrand Nkali, Xavier Dupree and Wes VanBeck are back. We have a lot of veterans back. Last year, we had a lot of question marks, not if we were going to be good, just how good we could be. This year we think we have a chance to be pretty good."
On Galen Robinson Jr...
"The biggest thing with the point guard in our system is embracing responsibilities. He has to get tougher. He has to win some battles and guard the other team's point guard and keep them out of the paint. I'm glad he's excited, but I'll be more excited when he gets better defensively. "
On thoughts on going to the NCAA Tournament for this program...
"You have to earn it; we haven't earned it. For us, its not a matter of if... it's just when. I like the fact that we are getting better. That's the main thing. A lot of people want to talk about all that stuff, but we have to control what's in front of us and not what's ahead of us."
On free throws and success on the road last season...
"Don't get confused about a bad free throw shooting team. You may have a bad free throw shooter, and he affects the percentage of your team. The Houston Rockets were a great free throw shooting team as long as Dwight Howard wasn't shooting.
"It wasn't that we were a bad free throw shooting team. We just had a couple of bad free throw shooters. Your free-throw percentage will always be influenced by the guy taking the most free throws. Chicken (Danrad Knowles) was our worst free throw shooter last year. Damyean Dotson shot 80 something percent, and Chicken shot probably 50 percent. Chicken gets better, (and) then we will be a better free throw shooting team. It's not our team needs to get better. It's just this guy or that guy. It's pretty simple."
"We are a great road team. We were 6-3 on the road, and we had a chance to win every game that we played on the road. We won at UConn, Temple, Central Florida, South Florida, East Carolina and Tulane. We lost at SMU in a game that went down to the last 40 seconds. We could have easily won that game. We lost to Cincinnati, and we were down three points with about three minutes to go and ended up losing by 10.
"The three games that we lost at home, in two of them, we had a 10-point lead in the second half. When you have a 10-point lead in the second half against a good team, it's usually one team making shots and one team missing shots. Don't make any mistake or complicate this game. This is very much a make-or-miss game. When you make shots, you are pretty good and when you miss shots, you are not very good unless you are a great offensive rebounding game.
"We were up 10 or 11 against Temple. We were playing good, and the balls were going in. All of a sudden, we started missing some shots, and they started making some shots, and next thing you know, we got to the last 20 seconds, and it was a tied ball game. We wound up losing, and that was a game we could have won, not should have, could have. Same with Connecticut at home. We had such a great win at Connecticut, and we were up 10 on them at home too. In a course of about 31 games, you are going to have some of those."
On engaging students...
"We had some great crowds last year. Obviously, a sell out against LSU where we had over 8,000 at the game. We had three other games where we had over 6,000, but we're winning. We are not trying to find a cure for colon cancer. This stuff is pretty simple... you win.
We have people doing a lot of work, boots on the ground and going out land leading the students. I certainly go out and do a lot of stuff with the fraternities and sororities. That's great, but your greatest market employ is always winning. That's why we had great crowds last year. Beating Cincinnati at home, beating SMU at home, and winning at Connecticut... that's why we had good crowds.
"We will have better crowds this year because we have a team that's fun to watch. We led the league in scoring. People don't come to watch defense. They come to watch that biscuit go in the basket. We averaged 78 points a game last year, and people like that. When you lead the league in scoring, have exciting players and you're winning, that gets contagious. That's why our team will be in the eye this year. We have talented players and good senior leadership, but we can score. When you can score, you always have a chance to win. As much as I love defense, that scoreboard keeps track of points. It doesn't keep track of stops. It keeps track of points."
On players down low...
"Kyle Meyer and Bertrand Nkali are certainly not going to play out on the 3-point line. We have to make a decision on Valentine (Sangoyomi). Truth be known, I would love to redshirt him. I love redshirting guys (and) always have.
"Two things have been consistent about me and my career with my roster is that I never use 13 scholarships, ever. When I say ever, that means I have never used 13 scholarships. That's a lot of years not using 13 scholarships. I like keeping one or two. This year, I only used 11. I gave one to Wes VanBeck so we have 12, but really going into the year, we only had 11 players on scholarship.
"Last year 705 student-athletes in Division I basketball transferred. That's not a problem. It is an epidemic. Everybody wants instant gratification, but these millennial athletes are really impatient. If they are not playing, then they are not having fun, and if they are not having fun, they transfer.
Why do you have 13 guys on your roster? Only five are going to start. That means eight are not playing. You are not going to play 13. I'm not going to play nine, usually I play eight and a half. If the kid is not going to play, then redshirt him. People say `what if they get hurt'? Well, what if they don't. That's always been my philosophy."
On memories with his alma mater UNC Pembroke...
"I have a lot of fond memories. One of our graduate assistants (Garrett Bridges) is the son of one of my teammates at UNC Pembroke. It is a great school.
"Their football team is ranked 15th in the nation. The basketball program has done really, really well. Last year, we brought in Montana Tech, who gave a 24-year-old coach a chance.
"Our profession and all of our lives should be enriched by giving back. You are either a taker or a giver, and I prefer to give. It is an awesome experience for these UNC Pembroke kids to have a chance to come play University of Houston and also playing in Chapel Hill against North Carolina.
"I'm really happy that Hunter (Yurachek) allowed us the opportunity to help them out a little bit and bring them out here. No matter what I do for them, they have helped me far more. I really have a great relationship with the chancellor at UNC Pembroke. He was one of my high school teammates and former best friends. We do a lot of work to help them fundraise. It is all about giving back."
On his baseball career at UNC Pembroke...
"I was a left-handed hitter, more of a pull hitter. My biggest thrill was hitting the home run over the right-field wall against East Carolina when I was a junior. We were down two or three runs in the eighth inning. That was my highlight. I could hit."
On advice given to Women's Basketball Head Coach Ron Hughey...
"I said to get better players. This thing is about recruiting. I'm sure if you were to ask coach (Tom) Herman what the key to success is, he would tell you he walked in and found Greg Ward. That is where is started.
"Coach Hughey didn't walk in and find that. A lot of the time, it is as simple as that. You get a chance to get started out on the right foot if you inherit a great program. He and I both inherited a tough situation, but that's ok. There is nothing wrong with that. That is a part of the building.
"My third team at Washington State lost 18 in a row... best thing that ever happened to me as a coach. I lost 18 games in a row. We beat Southern California to go 1-0 in the league, and we lost our next 17. Then we lost our first game in the tournament. Twelve of those games were by four or five points or less.
"We lost our two leading scorers, one to arm surgery and the other one had some kind of blood infection in his thigh. With those two guys out, we couldn't score. That is a part of the journey.
"When you start coaching in a program, based on what you inherit will tell how you start. Based on what Coach Hughey inherited, he has done about what he should have done his first couple of years. Because of APR and academic rules, you cannot clean house. You are held accountable for graduation rates and retention rates. I am not talking year to year. I'm talking semester to semester.
"It has been tough for him because of what he inherited. We got lucky, that first year we spent more time recruiting then we did coaching the current team. I took the job April 3, 2014. Three weeks later we only had five players on the team. You don't rebuild with five. You build.
"We had to start over, but we also had Damyean Dotson and Ronnie Johnson who were sitting out. We brought in Rob Gray and Devonta Pollard. We did ours quickly because of recruiting, but we had all of our scholarships open. You can't just take scholarships from kids. Sometimes a team is not really yours until they are all yours.
"Your third or fourth year is when you will start showing improvement. The first couple of years you are held hostage by what you inherited. That is just the way it goes. If you inherit a great situation you can win quickly. Look at Coach (Frank) Haith at Tulsa . He will tell you that. When he took the job, he had five starters coming back. Now that they are all gone, and he is in his third year, they kind of have to start over.
"That is what I faced at Washington State. Our third year was really our first year, and we lost 18 consecutive games. I don't mind talking about it, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I learned a lot of things about coaching that year."
On video singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" at the Cubs game...
"The Cubs asked me to come sing `Take Me Out to the Ball Game'. That was because we went to the Final Four that year. Bob's (Stoops) team had won the national championship the year before, beating Florida State. The Cubs asked Bob to come and when they asked me to come, Bob said `you want to go?'
"I couldn't go because I had something in New Orleans at that time, so he said we should do it together. He said it would be better if we did it together. Bob's wife, Carol, and my wife, Karen, the three of them were already in Chicago. I had to fly from New Orleans to Chicago. The interesting thing about singing `Take Me Out to the Ball Game' is that, around the fifth inning they take you up to the top and you have to do TV.
"I was doing TV with Steve Stone. I did an inning on TV, and then I did an inning on radio. Around the sixth inning they take you up to another room where they have an organ and you get to practice singing the song. Everybody knows the words to the song until 30,000 people turn around and start staring at you... then you start forgetting the words.
"They then have a video showing you all of the worst possible renditions of the song. The day before we did it, the girls from Gilligan's Island sang, and once I saw that, I got a lot of confidence. Then they showed Mike Ditka doing it, and he didn't know whether he was on foot or horseback by the time he started that song.
"Funny thing was that Bob and I are both Oklahoma head coaches, and there was a spattering of Texas Longhorn fans. Among those 30,000 people we could automatically see the Longhorn fans. It was a good experience. Something I am glad I did at least once.
On losing 18 in row and learning from it...
"I was a head coach in college when I was 25. Then I was a head coach in the Pac-10 when I was 31. You don't know it all. It is easy to have a good team and nurse a good team along, but you're not having to face any adversity. It's like fighting Mike Tyson. Everybody has a plan until they walk in the ring, and he plasters them upside the head. Then the plan goes out the window.
"I had a good plan going into that season. Then our two best players went out. We started playing freshmen. The best point guard I've had since I was a head coach was an 18-year-old freshman on that team. The problem was Oregon State had a 22-year-old senior named Gary Payton. Arizona had a senior named Sean Elliot.
"That's when seniors would stay for four years. Today, Gary Payton would have only stayed one year. Oregon State, Arizona, UCLA, Stanford, they all had great players, and we didn't. That was tough from that perspective, but I was proud of that team. The fact that we lost 12 of those games by four or five points told you that this kids never gave up. I really respected them. To this day I hear from half of that team regularly. We have a great relationship.
"You find out about coaching when you're good and you lose a home game that you shouldn't lose. You go to practice the next day, and that is when you have to figure some things out. In coaching, you're always going to be challenged on something, but when you lose 18 consecutive games, that is when you have to be creative, have some imagination and be patient.
"Being a mentor, coach, father comes into play but you learn that. You learn so much more about yourself in a losing situation then you do a winning situation. Everybody that has good players is going to win. If you've got good players, you are going to win. We had good players last year, and we won. We have good players this year, and we are going to win again. Hopefully we don't ever have to deal with a situation like that. You find out a lot about yourself as a coach and as a person."
SENIOR GUARD Damyean Dotson
On expectations for the team this season...
"I'm excited. We have high expectations for the team. The season hasn't started yet, so everybody has high expectations for their team. I believe in our team. We have great leadership in the returning players, and I'm looking forward to it."
On taking the next step as a team...
"It's exciting because you get so much energy at practice, and you know practice is the harder than games. You're going so hard at practice, and you just can't wait to play the game. You've been practicing since Oct. 3. I think everybody is fired up to play, and we're ready to see what we got against other opponents."
On if the players finally match up in their favor...
"You could say that, but until the games come around, you can't really know who's going to do what and when and how. As far as the returnees are, I feel like everybody gets the culture as far as me, Galen, Rob, Chicken, Bertrand (Nkali) (and) Kyle (Meyer). Everybody knows what the coach wants, so we're just still trying to give that leadership to the new guys and see if they take it from there."
On how different is it this year with more experience and how better is it than last year... "The sitting out year was a long time... it felt like forever. But when I used to come up here and watch practice, I had a feeling I was coming here, and I was just getting excited to play for the University of Houston and being back at home.
"It's been a great transition because [at] Oregon, I was young, 18 or 19, I really didn't know too much about college basketball and how the game was played. I just played off of energy and excitement, but now I get the Xs and Os, thanks to Coach Sampson. He makes me think [about] the game more and make the right decisions and realize defense is as important as offense."
On what tells him this is going to be a better year than last year...
"Just for the most part, my teammates. A lot of people are on board. I would say Rob (Gray) is on board, Danrad (Knowles). I see the hard work all the time, just from getting exercise up and making their running times. I just feel like everybody's on board. We have a lot of potential on this team, a lot of people are looking forward to this year. Coach Sampson is really enthusiastic and bringing intensity every day because he believes in us. I'm just ready to get the season started."
On what it means to play for hometown team...
"It means a lot. Last year kind of went by fast, but now I'm kind of taking my time. I need to see more of my family, because, I (would) be busy a lot with practice, but I'm trying to see my family a lot more. Just get them to the game because this is my last year, my senior year, and I only got a few more months left. Just taking everything slowly and being productive."
On what the Guy V. Lewis Development Facility means...
"It means a lot. Like I was telling somebody a couple of days ago, just for this being here 24/7, you can say, you could be at the house at 3 o'clock in the morning and you can't sleep, you can come up here and get shots up, watch TV or whatever. It's a great addition, and it definitely helps with the recruitment."
On if it will be easier to hold on to some of the leads compared to last year...
"Coach is on us about that a lot. The Connecticut loss, we were up ten. Temple, we were up ten but lost that game. He gets on us a lot about that, so the maturity of this team comes from the core guys -- me, Galen (Robinson), Rob (Gray), and Danrad (Knowles). We'll see how that goes. I can't speak on that right now."
SENIOR FORWARD Bertrand Nkali
On non-conference schedule...
"We play four ranked (or receiving votes) teams in non-conference play, so we're going to have a raise in play because we play better competition. Last year, (the) non-conference game weren't as good, so that's why we didn't make it to the tournament. But this year, it's way better, so I guess if we win all these games, (then) this should help our resume."
On leg injury...
"It's nothing bad. It's just elevated so the swelling can go down. It's nothing to worry about."
On staying focused during long season...
"The key is just to stay focused on one game at a time. If you have a game on Saturday, then that is the only game you should worry about. Work on your game plan, attack it and as soon as you're done with that game, attack the next one. You can't think about tournament right now, because it's too far ahead. Just take one game at a time."
SENIOR FOWARD Danrad Knowles
On non-conference schedule...
"It's going to be a test. We've got to win the games first, so I'll let you know when we win the games. If we win the games, it'll be a big help to us. It'll boost us a lot more and give us a better resume."
On getting to play tough games ahead of conference...
"For us to test ourselves and see where we are at offensively and defensively because (Rhode Island) beat us last year at their place. Plus, they're top 25 team this year, so it's going to be a good test for us to see where we're at."
On last year at Hoheinz Pavilion...
"We can't be losing at home. We have to go out with a bang, and this is my last season too. I'm trying to enjoy it as much as possible."
On getting more fans to the games
"It's a lot. It's like the sixth man for us. We can feel their energy on floor. We need the fans' support, but we also need to win to increase the fan support. Most of the time it has been just our families, the band and the cheerleaders supporting us. We'd really like the fan support to bring that energy and intensity for us. It's a big deal."
On marquee wins last season
"It gives us confidence, but it's also a new season. We have to step up more and improve. We need to keep winning those big games, so we can expand more."
On program's transition
"It hasn't been easy, but we've developed over time, and that's a big plus. We've still got a long way to go, but we're going to get there."
On learning from Coach Sampson
"It's been hard, but all you've to do is take it and learn from it. Just suck it up. There's not much you can do but listen and learn."
On Coach Sampson's impact
"He's made me more mentally tough and intense. Hopefully you don't see me spaz on the court. It's going to be a fun season."
On his leadership role
"I've just tried to help them when they're down. You're going to get down sometimes. I want to lift my teammates up when they are down and help them any way I can."
On advice to teammates
"Keep your head up. Don't get too high or too low."
On freshman Armoni Brooks' ability to help the team
"It's a big plus. He's is probably one of the best shooters on the team behind Damyean (Dotson) and Wes (VanBeck). It's going to help a lot. We're not really worried about our offense. We're focused on defense right now."