Culture / Sporting Life

Emanuel Sharp Emerges as UH’s Microwave Instant Offense Scorer — How No. 3 Houston Is Quietly Getting Even Better

Unselfish Ball Movement, Quick Bursts of Long Range Shooting and Another Reason For College Basketball's Other National Title Contenders to Worry

BY // 12.29.22

TULSA, Okla. — With a makeshift cocktail bar set up just off the court, a DJ in a booth and a TV advertising campaign geared around bringing fans out to see the No. 3 team in the country come to town, the University of Tulsa seemingly had everything set up for a party. And nearly 5,000 fans gave the college’s 8,355 seat on-campus basketball arena at least a little liveliness despite Tulsa being on winter break. But once Emanuel Sharp popped off Kelvin Sampson’s University of Houston bench and started draining 3-pointers, the party only belonged to the Cougars.

UH probably didn’t need another weapon to rout rebuilding Tulsa 89-50 and move to 13-1, but the Cougars certainly have one. This conference opener saw starting guard Tramon Mark show off the full, expanded range of his offensive repertoire before reaggravating a quad injury that’s been bothering him for a little while and sitting out the last 17:51. It included a 15 point, nine rebound night on perfect 7-for-7 shooting from UH big man J’Wan Roberts, who continues to show how much better his touch around the basket is. There were highlight blocks from two 19-year-olds — super freshman Jarace Walker coming from behind to absolutely erase a shot at the rim and budding sophomore talent Ja’Vier Francis tomahawking a 3-pointer attempt into the fifth row for his fourth block of the game.

But Sharp continuing his microwave-like scoring as UH’s sixth or seventh man (Sharp and Ja’Vier Francis usually come in together as the first subs off the bench) is the development that should worry the rest of the nation’s legit national title contenders. Sharp’s ability to score in quick bursts, to shift a game without needing a ton of minutes, gives this talented Houston team another dimension.

Perhaps an unexpected dimension.

Against Tulsa, Sharp comes in with UH up 12-8 and hits his first three 3-pointer shots in a three minute span to make it a 25-13 game. With his teammates getting more and more excited with each make.

“He’s a great shooter,” UH All-American guard Marcus Sasser says of Sharp. “I feel like he’s right there with me and Ryan (Elvin). He puts the same amount of work in as us. So that’s no surprise to me to see him.

“Every time he shoots the ball, I feel like it’s going in.”

Not quite, but Sharp is shooting 47.2 percent from three this season, a clip that starts seeming less like a small sample size thing and more like just an excellent shooter taking good shots by the game. Sharp is showing an ability to heat up quickly, an essential trait for the role he plays on an uber talented Houston team with plenty of guard depth.

Like Vinnie Johnson, the Bad Boys era Detroit Pistons sixth man nicknamed The Microwave, Sharp can put up points quickly. He’s scored at least nine points in four of Houston’s last five games, shooting better from 50 percent from the field in each of those games. UH’s freshman — the oft forgotten member of a class that includes McDonald’s All-American Jarace Walker and consensus Top 50 recruit Terrance Arceneaux — can do a lot with a little opportunity.

Emanuel Sharp and the Power of Distance

The near Steph Curry distance three that Sharp seemingly effortlessly drains to start his string of three straight 3-pointers against Tulsa hits an upset dreaming team like a punch to the solar plexus. It’s hard enough to try and contain Houston’s three-headed guard monster of Marcus Sasser (12 points,  five assists), Jamal Shead (nine points) and Tramon Mark (14 points in those 19 minutes of court time).

Add in a mad bombing shooter off the bench and the task becomes like plotting a way to contain a volcano. No in-game DJ is going to be able to help you with this.

“I feel like it’s very important,” Sasser says when I ask him about Sharp’s impact off the bench. “As you can see (against Tulsa), he gave us a big spark. He really started the run for us. He had three threes. Then everybody else started getting going.

“So it’s real important to have him coming off the bench and be an instant offense player.”

University of Houston guard Emanuel Sharp is starting to add some drives to his prolific 3-point shooting. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
University of Houston guard Emanuel Sharp is starting to add some drives to his prolific 3-point shooting. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Sharp and Arceneaux (nine points and two steals in 13 minutes) end up essentially closing out the Tulsa game with Shead, Sasser and Mark all comfortably sitting out the last 10 minutes with Houston leading huge, something that should help in Saturday New Year’s Eve afternoon tilt with UCF. Shead subs out for good with 11:31 remaining. Sasser follows less than two minutes later. Both join Mark, who watches almost the entire second half with a white towel over his hurting quad.

All three of UH’s starting guards spend most of those last 10 minutes coming out of their seats to cheer on their teammates, waving towels and hollering for good plays. This is the personification of a team that shoots 59 percent the field and nearly scores 90 points.

If you’re not in the game, you really cheer for everyone who is. That’s not a happy coincidence, it’s a Kelvin Sampson program ethos.

“Just our spacing,” Sampson says. “Our ball movement. Our teams over the years have been so unselfish. Multiple guys can make a shot. On our team, we talk about this. It doesn’t really matter who scores as long as we score.

“Kids coming up in elementary school and middle school and high school, the only thing they have driven into them is shoot and score. Shoot and score. Well, five years after your career is over nobody remembers how many points you scored. But they do remember how many games your team won.

“So winning is far more important than scoring.”

Making sure a teammate who is coming home has fun also seems more important to this Houston team. Senior forward Reggie Chaney, who proudly sports a large Tulsa tattoo on his arm for his hometown, has more than 35 people in the Reynolds Center stands — a friends and family crew that delights in everything he does. The UH contingent also included many friends of the Sampsons from Kelvin Sampson’s 12 seasons in Norman.

Chaney’s UH teammates make sure the dirty work forward gets chances to shoot too, working to get him touches in the post.

“He’s at home,” Robert says. “We know what type of game it was for him. Very emotional game. Playing in front of family. We just wanted him to feel comfortable, get him the ball, let him go to work.”

“As you can see, he gave us a big spark. He really started the run for us. He had three threes. Then everybody else started getting going.” — UH guard Marcus Sasser on Emanuel Sharp

Sharp, who has a more muscular 6-foot-3 frame than you expect from a first-year college guard, does all his work in 20 minutes of playing time. He adds a traditional three-point play (drive and plus one foul shot) and four rebounds to his makes from distance.

With Sampson demanding increased ball movement since UH’s lone loss to Alabama, a shooter like Sharp can only benefit.

“Mostly the Alabama game, when we went back and watched film we noticed how we strayed away from the ball movement,” Sharp tells PaperCity. “And that really hurt us in losing that lead. So now learning from that, going forward, we made a point to make sure it happens.”

The ball is moving and Emanuel Sharp is getting plenty of jumpers, set up by teammates excited to see the freshman drain another one. Yes, one of college basketball’s best — and most consistent — shows suddenly has another added dimension.

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