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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: "You can't fast-forward progress. It's a process."

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November 16, 2018 -- 1:35 p.m. CST

The Houston Cougars practiced Thursday - one day after defeating the Rice Owls 79-68 Wednesday night. The Coogs will practice Friday and over the weekend to prep for Monday night's game versus Northwestern State at TSU's H&PE Arena. 7 p.m. tip-off.

I spoke with Houston Head Coach Kelvin Sampson Friday before the Coogs' practice to learn about Thursday's practice and ask Coach Sampson how this year's team's progress compares to last year's team's progress at this time last year.

Here's the Q&A session:

How was Thursday's practice?

"Well, for us, it's a process. Sometimes, trying to explain moving a team along with all the defensive rules and understanding where you're supposed to be; what your job is. We had 27 defensive breakdowns the other night (against Rice) that led to 12 baskets. A month from now, I think all those things will be corrected. But, you can't fast-forward progress. It's a process.

"I was looking at a bunch of other games the other day. Radford beat Notre Dame. IUPUI beat Boston College. Now, go look at those teams' rosters. Look at what they lost and look who they're replacing them with. That's why, when you can win games, when you're not ready, when you're not a good team, yet; that's why I don't even think twice about that stuff.

"I got to get Nate Hinton ready to play college basketball. I got to get Brison ready. Brison Gresham is a freshman. Forget what his year in school says. He sat out, I think, 9 games his freshman year. I don't even remember why. I don't even know why. But, he sat out. His team lost 18 games. He's a freshman. Ced's (Cedrick Alley Jr.) a freshman. Nate's a freshman. DeJon's (DeJon Jarreau) a freshman.

"When you're used to having veterans; then, all of a sudden, you come up here with all of these freshmen, it's a little bit different. Even when we had junior college kids. Junior college kids picked up stuff a little bit (quicker) because they played two years of college ball. So, right now, we stuck Nate in a room with about four rabbits; and, he's chasing all of them. Pretty soon, he's only going to chase one; and, he'll catch it. And, when he does, he's going to figure this out."

How does the number of defensive breakdowns compare to this same time last year?

"We weren't very good this time last year. Nobody is very good in November. Duke's kids never did come around defensively (last year) that's why they switched to zone. It's hard to be a good man-to-man defensive team. It really is. We've always tried to take pride in that area; but, it's really hard to teach. And, it's hard to grasp because most of these high school kids come from programs where they just press. They run around and trap.

"Now, the ball is here. I have to be here. If the ball is swung, I've got to be here. Here comes a ball screen. I have to do this. On a back screen, I do this. A cross screen I do this.

"As a coach, you have to teach what you believe in. Last year's team won because we were ranked 13th in the nation defensively. Not because of an individual player but because that team could guard. And, then, we could rebound. When you can defend and rebound and take care of the ball, you have a chance to be in every game you play. And, that's the way we roll around here."

How has practice in the Fertitta Center been for you and the team?

"It's still dusty. We were going to go practice there today; but, there's still working on some stuff on the mezzanine level. Like the Legends' Area. Some of the concession stands are finishing up. The dust drifts down to the floor; so, we're constantly having to wet mop that. So, I don't want to risk getting anybody injured. And, we're still caught between two worlds: we've got the Fertitta Center; but, we still have two more games at Texas Southern. Our new guys need to go to Texas Southern because they haven't been over there a whole lot.

"It's not just Corey (Corey Davis Jr) and Armoni (Armoni Brooks) and Galen (Galen Robinson Jr) or Breaon (Breaon Brady) or Chris (Chris Harris). Guys from last year. None of these new guys have spent enough time over there. But, we'll practice over here today. Hopefully, this weekend we can get over to Texas Southern; but, we have to schedule around their volleyball team and men's and women's basketball teams. So, from a logistical standpoint, this has been tough. People don't know what they don't know. The stuff that we have to do to go over there and come back. I'll be glad when we can go downstairs and just walk over there (and practice). That will make it a lot easier."


Houston Cougar guard DeJon Jarreau is being held out due to a team issue. He'll continue to practice with the team; but, no timetable has been set for his return to game competition.

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