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by: Kris Gardner, United States Basketball Writers Association member. Credentialed media member since 1997. USBWA approved online journalist. Voter of Lowe's Senior CLASS, Naismith, USBWA, and Wooden awards.
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Kelvin Sampson: "This league has got good coaches and good programs."
POSTED: December 31, 2019 -- 9:50 a.m. CT
Conference play for the 2019-2020 season in the American Athletic Conference tipped off Monday night in Memphis when the Memphis Tigers defeated the Tulane Green Wave 84-73. The other AAC members begin conference play the remainder of this week.
Houston Cougars Head Coach Kelvin Sampson spoke with the media about his thoughts on the league this season. Sampson mentioned Memphis and the Wichita State Shockers have impressed him the most thus far this season.
"I don't have to look at it. I know," Sampson commented. "I mean I know how good Memphis is. I saw the kids they recruited. I can't tell you how impressed the job Penny's (Memphis Head Coach Penny Hardaway) done. You know, if you've got good players, you can withstand a loss if you've got good depth.
"I've know idea who our most valuable player is game to game. That's what makes us a good team. We don't have one guy we have to have if he don't play good, we're going to lose. That's not the way we're built. That's on purpose.
"But, when you lose a guy like (7'1 James Wiseman) Wiseman, you think you'd take a step back; but, they (Memphis) haven't; and, I think that's a credit to Penny; and his staff; and, the kids that he recruited. They're really, really, really good. Going to Tennessee and winning in front of 20000 plus that's impressive. They've beaten a bunch of good teams.
"And, then, Wichita State. Wichita State is us last year at this time. They had a bunch of new guys. They lost a lot (two seasons ago).
"We lost four starters (Breaon Brady, Armoni Brooks, Corey Davis Jr, and Galen Robinson Jr). People asking me a silly question like 'Why are we inconsistent early?' That's just silly. We lost four starters. Figure it out.
"Wichita State did the same thing last year. I mean they lost A LOT. What's the kid's name with the (L.A.) Clippers?
"(Landry) Shamet. That big strong kid inside (6'8, 280, Shaq Morris). So, they struggled. They struggled in November. They struggled in December. And, then, they got it going in January and February and made the N.I.T. But, we were the same way this year in November and December. You try to replace those four starters; and, you just don't. You just don't.
"Now, as we head into January, we're a lot better than we were a month ago.
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"But, the two teams that have impressed me the most have been Memphis and Wichita State at the top. Another coach that I think is not getting enough credit for what he's done is Johnny (Dawkins) at Central Florida. Because look what they lost. They lost Tacko (Fall). They lost Aubrey Dawkins; and, they lost B.J. Taylor. Those are three All-Conference players. Not just seniors. All-Conference players. And, here they are 9 and 2. And, they led Oklahoma by 12 at Oklahoma. They could have easily won that game on the road; so, Johnny, it's not surprising. I've watched him now for, what, four years. Johnny's a good coach. A really good coach."
"That's the thing about this league. The guy down at Tulane, I think, does a great job - Ron Hunter.
"Joe Dooley at East Carolina. A really, really good coach. What he did at Florida Gulf Coast after (Andy) Enfield when to USC. That's why they hired him. Because he's good.
"The league was tough last year. I don't think anybody thought anybody could go 16 and 2 last year. I sure didn't. I think Mick Cronin actually said it: 'Nobody is going to go 16 and 2 like they did the year before; but, we did because we got good. We were just good at what we did."
"But, I would say I think if anybody can go 16 and 2 this year, it would be either Memphis or Wichita State. I don't think anybody else can."
Sampson was asked if it says something about the league that you didn't mention Cincinnati. They've been the champion the last three years. It just shows how deep the league is this year.
"I didn't meant to not mention them; but, Temple, Cincinnati, UConn. Another coach that gets overlooked is Coach (Tim) Jankovich and Coach (Frank) Haith at Tulsa. This league has got good coaches and good programs. SMU won at Evansville right after they (Evansville) won at Kentucky.
"So, you're going to lose games in the league. That's the way it's going to be. You just gotta win your games at home. Find a way to win a road game here and there."
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