Culture / Sporting Life

How Fabian White Jr. Made His UH Teammates Believe After the Stunning Marcus Sasser Injury Blow

The Player Leader Kelvin Sampson's Remade Houston Team Needs

BY // 01.10.22

Even Scrooge didn’t have as stressful a Christmas Eve as the University of Houston basketball team. Marcus Sasser, UH’s most important player, revealed that he had a foot fracture and was headed for season ending surgery. Having already lost uber talent Tramon Mark to shoulder surgery, the Cougars were a shaken team.

Everyone knew it. Everyone could see a potential special Final Four follow up season slipping away. Fabian White Jr. was not about to let that happen. He started texting his teammates, telling them how they could still reach their lofty goals. His texts delivered a strong message to Josh Carlton and Taze Moore specifically.

“He texted both of us and told us we have to step up in ways that we didn’t think we would for this team,” Moore says when I ask him about those first days after the Sasser blow. “Just because me and Josh want to win. We want to do whatever needs to be done to win.

“But Fabs told us that we needed to step up in ways that will help this team win. And help put us in position to hopefully get to the Final Four.”

Carlton and Moore have certainly responded to White’s message. In the three games the Cougars have played without Sasser so far, Carlton is averaging 20 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks and Moore is averaging 10.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. White himself is putting up 15 points and seven rebounds per game on 55 percent shooting since Sasser’s been out.

And most importantly, Houston is 3-0.

Talk about an effective text. When his teammates need a steadying voice, Fabian White delivers it.

“Fabian’s a good leader,” Moore says. “I just have to throw that out there. He’s a great leader.”

This is the same guy who returned early from an ACL injury to bolster UH’s Final Four worthy team last season. The same guy who’s turned himself into Houston’s best 3-point shooter (with Sasser out) by staying after practice day after day after day to get up more shots.

White’s played 127 games for Houston over the last five seasons. And his team’s won 103 of them. That’s no coincidence. And he’s been training to be the leader this team needed for years. Even if he didn’t always know it.

“Fabs told us that we needed to step up in ways that will help this team win. And help put us in position to hopefully get to the Final Four.” — Taze Moore on Fabian White Jr.’s impact.

The way Kelvin Sampson is remaking this Houston team on fly after losing his two most talented players should be another exhibit in his already incredibly rock solid Hall of Fame case. (ESPN college basketball voice Jay Bilas told PaperCity that Sampson already should be in the Basketball Hall of Fame.) Kelvin Sampson and his lead assistants Kellen Sampson and Quannas White have come up with new ways for this now very different UH team to attack opponents with little implementation time.

But none of the strategic moves and adjustments would matter if White hadn’t helped Sampson make these Cougars believe. A coach can harp on things and reinforce and reinforce. But it means something else when it also comes from a player. Especially a player as respected as Fabian White is in the Houston locker room.

“The season isn’t going to stop because Tramon and Marcus can’t play as much,” Carlton says. “Even with them not out there, there’s still games to play. We kind of just knew we were going to have to find a way. There’s not as much margin for error.

“So we’re not going to be able to maybe blow teams out like we were before. But we still have to find a way to win the game. We pretty much. . . everybody knew that whatever role they had before, we’re going to have to be able to take another step. And be ready.”

University of Houston Cougars defeated the Wichita State Shockers Saturday January 8, 2022 at the Fertitta Center.
Fabian White Jr. can hit the 3-pointer. And turn back a shot at the rim. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

This also means not giving up on their sky-high goals. Even if reaching them would mean taking an almost completely different — and much, much more daunting — path. Imagine someone guides you to a mountain — and then blindfolds you.

Fabian White’s Push and Houston’s New Ceiling

While UH coach Kelvin Sampson would publicly scoff at any Final Four talk with this team, the players have not lost that dream. And Sampson will tell you that this remade 3-0 team — one that still deserves the NCAA Tournament seeding that would come with its now 14-2 overall record — can still reach for plenty.

“I’m excited about where I think this team can be,” Sampson says. “Now, we don’t have the ceiling we had before. But we do have ceiling. And we’re going to try and hit that ceiling.”

Fabian White certainly will be reminding his guys of that. Whenever he thinks they really need it.

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