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by: Kris Gardner, United States Basketball Writers Association member. Credentialed media member since 1997. USBWA approved online journalist. Voter of Katrina McClain, Naismith, USBWA, and Wooden awards.

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Kelvin Sampson: "Your biggest improvement usually comes once you start playing games."

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UPDATED: October 16, 2019 -- 8:40 p.m. CT

POSTED: October 15, 2019 -- 7:02 p.m. CT

Monday, the Houston Cougars Men's Basketball program was selected as co-favorite with the Memphis Tigers in The American Athletic Conference Preseason Coaches Poll.

The news didn't impact Coogs' Head Coach Kelvin Sampson one way or the other.

"Where were we picked?" Sampson asked.

"Tied for first," I replied.

"I heard that. I haven't seen it," Sampson responded. "To be honest with you, I don't know where we were picked last year; so, it's neither here nor there to me."

And with that, I asked him how practice has gone thus far.

"Practice is always tedious until you play a game," Sampson commented. "You know we're practicing against each other; so, it's a double-edged sword. I can watch film and, literally, be schizophrenic. See something I love on offense; and, two seconds later, I hate what we did on defense. Love what we're doing on defense; then, what's wrong with the offense.

"We got a scrimmage (per Stadium's Jeff Goodman - 10/26 vs. Texas Tech in Fort Worth, Texas) coming up in a couple of weeks; so, we're just preparing for that. And, then, after that, you have an exhibition game. Prepare for that.

"And, then, the season get's rolling," Sampson continued.

"Your biggest improvement usually comes once you start playing games.

"But, we lost a lot, obviously, with Armoni (Brooks) and Galen (Robinson, Jr.), and Corey (Davis, Jr.) and Breaon (Brady). You lose four starters.

"A little confusing how we get picked to win the league when you lose four starters. I'm trying to figure out where the logic is for that.

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Coach Sampson was asked whether or the new guys have gotten to a point where they are competing and will contribute this season.

"Let me do a quick shuffle here about who are our new guys," Sampson assessed. "We have Justin Gorham who sat out last year - a transfer from Towson State.

"Marcus Sasser. J'Wan Roberts. Caleb Mills are freshmen.

"We're missing the four starters as I said.

"Those three guys right there -- (redshirt junior) DeJon Jarreau; (sophomore) Nate Hinton; (senior) Chris Harris -- none of them started last year; but, they played a lot of minutes in big games on big stages. As did Brison Gresham.

"Being able to watch these guys play against each other, they make each other better because our practices are very competitive, very intense."

Sampson continued, "So, when we go out there, you get a good feel for how far the freshmen are coming more than anything else. But, the other thing is we went to Italy this summer. The four games are nice; but, to me, the great advantage of those foreign trips are the 10 practices.

"You don't have to worry about the (NCAA mandated) four hours per week (of instruction in the summer). You can get 10 practices in. We tried to structure them where we don't have three or four in a row. You just nitpick them; so, you don't wear them down.

"It will be interesting to see how we play. We lost a lot. Armoni and Corey especially because of the 230 threes or thereabouts. You lose 230 threes you just don't replace that. And, then, Galen Robinson's leadership, toughness, and will to win; so, it's not just replacing numbers, it's replacing moments.

"We were really, really good on the road the last few years," Sampson concluded. "That senior class was a big reason why."

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