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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: "Just a process you have to go through."

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November 9, 2018 -- 10:21 a.m. CST

The Houston Cougars men's basketball team tips off the 2018-'19 season versus the Alabama A&M Bulldogs Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m.

Coogs' Head Coach Kelvin Sampson is looking to see improvement in his team from last week's exhibition win over Dallas Baptist.

New season. New players. Mistakes are expected. Learning from the mistakes is also expected.

"There's always a baseline performance for starting games," Sampson said. "You look around at all these first games the thing that stands out to you is how choppy the games are: too many turnovers; too many fouls.

"Those are the things I'm not sure you can correct early in the year," Sampson admits. "Just a process you have to go through. Our kids have been improving. They've been working. Working at the things that we need to work on.

Defense is a core to a Kelvin Sampson-coached team; and, this year's team is early in the process of getting in sync on defense.

"Our focus is, obviously, getting in sync with our halfcourt defense," Sampson commented. "Understanding the relentlessness we have to approach rebounding with. I've always said you have to have more chemistry on defense than you do offense: one guy breaks down on defense you're probably going to give up an easy basket. You try to just get better at that each game. Knowing that the more games you play the more chemistry you will have.

"Guys that struggle with that the most is always the new guy," said Sampson knowingly. "If we had last year's team returning in tact, we'd be really good defensively on day one. But, you replace a senior in Devin with a freshman in Ced. Freshmen make mistakes. They don't have it, yet.

"We're replacing Rob (Rob Gray), basically, with another freshman with Nate (Nate Hinton)-- in terms of newness.

"Armoni Armoni Brooks), Corey (Corey Davis Jr.), and Galen (Galen Robinson Jr.) -- if they played 40 minutes, we probably wouldn't make very many mistakes. But, now, you put DeJon (DeJon Jarreau)in there; you put Nate. They don't know what those other guys know. They don't have any experience running it. But, mistakes are good for them. They're not going to play mistake-free, yet. But, the more we play the better they'll get. But, I have a clear understanding of how that works."

In addition to Hinton and Jarreau, Brison Gresham and Cedrick Alley Jr. are also part of the core of this season's team. With so many new faces, making sure everyone is on the same people is important; but, Sampson says thinking ahead or is more important than 'talking' on the basketball court.

"Talking is kind of a misunderstood word," Sampson opined. "They talk; but, why are they talking? Are they talking because I told them, too? Or, are they talking because they see a play ahead?

"I've always used a baseball reference: if you're a shortstop and there's one out and there's runners on second and third and the ball is hit to you, what are you going to do? You better know that before the ball is thrown. You better think ahead."

Sampson wants his players to get to a point where they're proactive on the court; but, getting to that point requires time.

"But, the proactive approach, I'm not sure they have it, yet," Sampson acknowledged. "Because, they play against us everyday; so, there's a predictability and a comfortability with playing each other. All of a sudden you put a new team out there doing stuff different than what they see everyday; so, now you have to react to that. And, that's where the mistakes will come. Your hope is when they make a mistake in the game is that they recognize it; and, the next time, they won't repeat it."

Coogs vs Bulldogs, 2 p.m., inside H&PE Arena on Texas Southern University's campus.


Alabama A&M brings an 0-1 record into Saturday's game after an 80-63 loss at USF on Tuesday.

Saturday's game can be seen on ESPN3 by clicking this link. Shawn Kenney will call the play-by-play action with Houston great Reid Gettys providing analysis.

CLICK HERE for news and info about the Coogs' men's basketball team.

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