Kelvin Sampson apparently will become the next basketball coach at the University of Houston. And he will do a bang-up job. That’s not the question. The question is, since Sampson apparently wants to return to the college game, is UH the right place?
I thought Sampson might be better off with the Wake Forest or Marquette jobs. For all I know, Sampson was waiting on Marquette, which on Tuesday hired Duke assistant Steve Wojciechowski.
But either way, Houston is a solid job for Sampson, who absolutely will succeed with the Cougars. Foremost, because Sampson is a heck of a coach. He can take marginal talent and win. He can take good talent and win big. All worries that he could ever take a team to the highest level were erased 12 years ago, when the Sooners made the Final Four, and a year later, when OU made the regional final and were eliminated only by eventual national champion Syracuse, with Carmelo Anthony.
That 2002 Sooner team reached the Final Four without a single NBA player. The starting lineup of Quannas White, Hollis Price, Aaron McGhee, Jabahri Brown and Ebi Ere, and the key backups were Daryn Selvy and Jason Detrick. Great team. Wonderful team. But not a talent-rich team. The OSU team that made the Final Four two years later? Eddie Sutton had five players who eventually made the NBA, including two still playing today.
So Sampson can coach with the best of them. He will do well at Houston.
Houston is a better job now than it was a couple of years ago. UH has joined the American Conference, which is the remnant of the old Big East. Connecticut, Cincinnati, Memphis, now SMU with Larry Brown. Some good basketball being played in the American, even if Louisville is headed for the ACC.
Houston back in the day was a national power, under Guy Lewis in the 1960 (Elvin Hayes, Don Chaney) and the 1980s (Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler). There’s no reason to believe that UH can return to that splendor. But Houston clearly could be a perennial NCAA Tournament school. No reason that couldn’t happen. Heck, probably will happen with Sampson.
Sampson has been in need of redemption. He’s a two-time loser with NCAA rules. His impermissible phone calls at OU were repeated at Indiana, and while it’s interesting that Sampson’s violations no longer are crimes in the NCAA rulebook, it doesn’t absolve him.
But redemption is a common theme of college basketball. Sutton at OSU. Calipari at Kentucky. Bobby Knight at Texas Tech. Bob Huggins at Kansas State. Bruce Pearl now at Auburn.
I think a Marquette-type school is a better job than Houston. I think Marquette would have been a better fit for Sampson. Much better recent success. Better league (the new Big East). Sort of a blue-collar tradition.
But Houston will be good for Sampson. And Sampson will be very good for Houston.