Houston coach Kelvin Sampson edges UConn’s Dan Hurley for AP coach of the year


There was a moment during the NCAA Tournament, when top-seeded Houston was well on its way to a 40-point rout of No. 16 seed Longwood, that helps to capture why the Cougars have become so dominant under Kelvin Sampson.

It was late in the game, and Mylik Wilson was late closing out on the Lancers’ DA Houston, who buried a 3-pointer over him.

“They were up 30,” Longwood coach Griff Aldrich recalled, “and I thought DA barely got the shot off. And Sampson’s screaming at Wilson like that’s an emergency. ‘Get out there!’ It’s like, damn. I thought he was out there.”

That’s the way Sampson coaches, demanding excellence no matter the score or time left in the game. And the results speak for themselves: Houston won the Big 12 regular-season title i n its first year in the league, earned a No. 1 seed in the tournament for the second straight year and advanced through the opening weekend for the fifth time in a row.

The superlative season, which ended with a Sweet 16 loss to Duke during which All-American guard Jamal Shead hurt his ankle, allowed Sampson to narrowly edge UConn’s Dan Hurley for his second Associated Press Coach of the Year award, which was announced Friday.

Sampson received 23 of 62 votes from the national panel that votes for the weekly AP Top 25; balloting closed before the start of the NCAA Tournament. Hurley, whose top-seeded Huskies will play Alabama in the Final Four on Saturday night as they chase a second consecutive national title, finished second with 21 votes.

“He coaches 40 minutes of a 40-minute game. I think that’s what makes us good,” Shead said of Sampson, who also earned AP coach of the year in 1995 with Oklahoma. “He holds us to the same standard, day-in, day-out, practice or game.”

Lamont Paris of South Carolina received eight votes to finish third. T.J. Otzelberger of Iowa State and Danny Sprinkle, who was recently hired away from Utah State by Washington, had four apiece. McNeese State’s Will Wade and Kyle Smith, who coached Washington State to the second round of the NCAA tourney before leaving for Stanford, each received a vote.

Sampson is the 10th coach to win AP coach of the year multiple times, among them Guy Lewis, who won it twice with Houston during its previous heyday. Sampson is only the fourth to do it at separate schools and the 29 years between his awards is more than double the next-longest gap.

Themes of accountability, consistency and hard work at Houston can be traced to Sampson’s upbringing in North Carolina.

His grandparents were products of the Depression. His father, Ned, was a high school teacher and coach who made ends meet by finding part-time jobs in the summer. His mother, Eva, was a nurse who put in 12-hour shifts. With four kids at home — Sampson had a twin sister, along with sisters older and younger — there was no alternative for them but to work.

“I didn’t realize what latchkey kids were until I started reading about it. ‘Hey, I was one of those!’” said Sampson, who often came home from school to find an empty house. “Back then, that’s how it was. You got up and you went to work.

“So when you ask me where I got that from,” Sampson said of his work ethic, “I got that from my mom and dad.”

He has passed it along to his players.

Starting with the first Monday in June, the Cougars are out on baseball fields, running 18 100-yard sprints for time. On Tuesday, they head into a parking garage, running up ramps with weighted vests — also for time. They have shooting practice Wednesday, hit the gym on Thursday and on Friday, their coach is out with a stopwatch to time them over a mile.

“When you go through stuff like that at 5:45, 6 in the morning,” Sampson said, “you learn to respect the guy beside you.”

Along the way, Houston has earned the respect of everyone in college basketball.

It had made one NCAA Tournament in 22 years before his 2014 arrival, and those heady days of Lewis and Phi Slama Jama had become a distant memory. Sampson’s first season was rough, too. The Cougars went 13-19, winning just four American Athletic Conference games, and some wondered whether he could still win in college after six years in the NBA.

Yet the groundwork was laid for all that has followed: four regular-season AAC titles in a five-year span, a trip to the Final Four in the one year they did not win it, and back-to-back 30-plus win seasons that ushered them into the Big 12.

There, they won the regular-season title with two games to spare and finished 32-5 this season.

“I’m so blessed to have coached that first team that went 13-19,” Sampson said. “That was the only team that my wife’s ever asked, ‘Could you get them to sign a basketball for me?’ We have a lake house in North Carolina, and I see it every summer. She has that ball displayed in a prominent position there, and that’s the only one.

“We’ve been to Final Fours, won a ton of conference championships,” Sampson added, “but she’s only got one ball. That’s from that 13-19 team. She appreciate that team because they never quit.”

Just like their coach. No matter the score or time left in the game.


AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball

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