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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: The goal here is not to make the (NCAA) Tournament. The goal is to win the Tournament.

June 28, 2018

As the $60-million Fertitta Center nears completion, Houston Cougars men's basketball Head Coach Kelvin Sampson remembers how far the University of Houston has come during his four (heading into five) seasons on the UH campus. The Coogs' first game in the Fertitta Center is Saturday, December 1, against the Oregon Ducks.

"When I got here, I looked at our facilities and thought 'These kids deserve so much better here.'," Sampson recalled earlier this week. "Then, I walked in here and there's something missing here.

"Division I basketball is not like football," Sampson said bluntly. "You're not divided by the Power 5 and the Group of 5. Everybody is the same. That's why Villanova has won two of the last 3 National Championships. What league are they in? Connecticut won it four years ago (2014); so, three of the last 5 years have been won by non-Power 5 or non-autonomous 5."

Coach Sampson says the mindset of the people associated with the UH basketball program as well as in the UH administration needed to change.

"One thing you're guaranteed in life to deal with is change," Sampson said. "You have to change. The most important thing here was changing the mentality. Change the way you think. Looking at yourself standing shoulder to shoulder with people. Don't be afraid to compete with them. It's about competition. Somebody is going to win or lose. What are you going to do to win? What are you willing to commit to? What is your level of being all in? One foot in? One foot out? You're two feet out because both feet ain't in. That's the attitude that I think we've brought with us (to UH).

"I think (former UH football head coach) Tom Herman, when he was here, I watched him over there in football. He was doing the same thing. He was all about winning."

Sampson added, "Getting people to realize that you can win a national championship here. Now, will you? Who knows? But, you should try to do that. That should be your goal: to compete for a championship; but, that starts with recruiting better players."

In order to recruit better players, Sampson believed UH had to upgrade its facilities.

Sampson remembers people saying to him, 'Coach, we gotta start keeping the best players in Houston here.' And, I looked at them and asked, 'Why would they come here?' And, they couldn't answer. I said to them, 'Well, obviously, you haven't been anywhere else. Look at Texas A&M's facilities. Or, Texas. Or, Baylor. Or, Texas Tech. Or, Oklahoma. Oklahoma's facilities 18 years ago, not now, 18 years ago were better than what we (UH) had. Oklahoma State's facilities are as good as anybody's. Look at their basketball facility.'

"But, having to fight those battles. Getting people to share your vision," Sampson acknowledged before mentioning people who helped him. "I go back to (former ADs) Mack Rhoades and Hunter Yurachek and (Chairman of the UH System Board of Regents) Tilman Fertitta, (former UH Regent) Spence Armour (III), (former UH Regent) Jarvis Hollingsworth, (attorney) Ken Bailey, (tv broadcasting legend) Bill Worrell. Those guys jumped in the boat with me. They fought some battles for me. Obviously, when you push for something you strongly believe in, there's always going to be people that get upset. But, you've got to have a plan.

"Dreams don't work unless you work and you plan. We had a good plan. I think we had a good vision. But, this (Fertitta Center) is what we want."

Artist rendition of the $60-million Fertitta Center

Sampson pointed out he does not want people to forget the significance of Hofheinz Pavilion; however, a change was definitely needed.

"Hofheinz Pavilion will always be historic -- especially to people of a certain era. But, just like everything else, it's time to move on," Sampson said.

Sampson continued, "You honor your past; but, you don't live in it. That's important to understand.

"I'm excited about what we accomplished; but, that's over with. That's over. The goal here is not to make the (NCAA) Tournament. The goal is to win the Tournament; so, now, we move forward."

Coach Sampson provided an example of his players arriving early to work out to lift weights before he arrived at the Guy V. Lewis Development Facility.

"We were supposed to start weights this morning at 7 o'clock. I got here at 6:45; and, they were already sweating. That tells you about our culture that we've developed. Our kids understand."

Sampson gives credit to the players he coached during his earlier seasons at UH for creating a foundation of accountability and establishing a winning culture.

"You give the credit to that to LJ Rose, Jherrod Stiggers, Eric Weary, Chicken Knowles, Kyle Meyer, Bert Nkali, Devonta Pollard, Damyean Dotson, Chuck Baker. Boy, I'm going way back aren't I? Four years. But, those guys were here when we were building. We weren't very good. All those guys deserve credit for this."

Coach Sampson appreciates the foundation laid by University of Houston basketball icons.

"Then, you go all the way back to Don Chaney, Elvin Hayes, Louis Dunbar, Coach Lewis. Everybody has a part in this. It's not just us. It's so unfair to take credit for stuff that has somebody else's name on it. The name on this is the University of Houston; and, I appreciate all the players and coaches and fans that have come before us that have supported this program over the years whether it's through their attendance or through their donations. I appreciate them; and, we're going to do our best to continue to build this program and compete for championships."

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

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