Fabian White's jumpers are a very effective weapon for Houston. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Fabian White Jr. is ready for Kyler Edwards' entry pass. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Kellen Sampson is one of the best young coaches in basketball. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Kyler Edwards is a double double threat for the Cougars. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Marcus Sasser relishes big game moments. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Fabian White Jr. has been making plays for Kelvin Sampson's program for a long time. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Marcus Sasser's shooting stroke is pure. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Fabian White Jr. gives Kelvin Sampson an experienced big man. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
UH coach Kelvin Sampson and his son/assistant Kellen Sampson always bring the intensity. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Kyler Edwards is not afraid to take his shots. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
A grueling Kelvin Sampson practice has been over for almost a half hour and Fabian White Jr. stays on the floor, shooting jumpers. White finds various spots outside the 3-point line — top of the key, on the wing, in the corners — and University of Houston assistant coach Kellen Sampson whips passes to him.
This was the scene after one of the last practices before UH left for Las Vegas and the displaced Maui Invitational. By the time, White is finished with his extra shooting, he’s drenched in a fresh layer of sweat.
“I started working on that back when I tore my ACL,” White told PaperCity on that practice day about his outside shot. “So I’ve been working on that for a while. It’s just a matter of time before I start hitting those shots. My teammates are always giving me confidence, telling me to shoot the ball when I’m open.
“As long as they keep giving me confidence, I’m gonna keep shooting ’em. And hopefully as time go on, I can get my timing right and I can start hitting them in the game.”
White started hitting them in a game in the Maui Invitational. He shot three for five from 3-point range in Houston’s 70-52 brushback of Butler in the opening round and three for six from three in a 78-49 annihilation of Oregon in UH’s last game of the holiday tournament. Suddenly, the 12th ranked Cougars have another long range weapon, giving another glimpse of just how much Kelvin Sampson’s 5-1 team still has room to grow.
With Fabian White Jr. putting up 21 points on 8 for 13 shooting against Butler, lifeline guard Marcus Sasser (9 points on only seven shots) does not have to do the heavy lifting for a game. For White, hitting three triples in one game after hitting only three total in his previous 114 career college games is not an aberration.
It is sign that all the work he’s been putting in is finally starting to pay off. He proves that by hitting three more treys against Oregon. Overall, White shot 6 for 12 from three point range in UH’s three Maui tournament games.
Once the 6-foot-8 White came to grips with tearing his ACL in May of 2020, he told himself that he would use the time to become a better player — and add a consistent outside shot that extended to 3-point range. So White started shooting before he was even cleared to put weight on his leg.
“I used to just take a chair right by the goal and shoot on the goal because I really couldn’t jump or extend my leg,” White says. “But as soon as the doctor gave me clearance to start jumping a little bit, that’s when I really started.”
Now, that type of post practice shooting session I witnessed with Kellen Sampson is a regular part of Fabian White’s routine. Once so desperate to work on his shooting that he hoisted shots while sitting down on a chair on the court, White is certainly going to maximize every opportunity now.
Which is one of the reasons his teammates were so noticeably excited about his big game — something which came through clearly on the TV screen. The other UH players know how hard Fabian White’s worked. They have seen it day after day.
Having the Maui Invitational in Las Vegas can bring some silly scenes. ESPN making Jay Bilas walk through a casino carrying a surf board is a little much. Ditto for the Hawaiian shirts Bilas and Dan Shulman are wearing. But even without any of the tropical trappings of Hawaii, the chance to play some power conference teams (a two point loss to Wisconsin in the semifinals and the romp over Oregon, which came in still ranked No. 23 in the coaches poll, in the third place game) was still more than enough of a draw for White and his teammates.
“It’s always disappointing not going to Hawaii,” White tells PaperCity. “But it’s still the same teams, same tough competition, so we’ve got to bring our A Game every game.”
Having the uber talented Tramon Mark (shoulder injury) play for the first time this season in Las Vegas means plenty for UH’s future. And seeing Taze Moore pull off several more acrobatic plays — including a block where he seems to rise above the rim and a few freakishly athletic putback slams — that leave Bilas marveling all over again is no small jolt of a sign.
But the biggest immediate development from UH’s third place finish in this Maui Invitational is Fabian White seeing his extra work turn into buckets.
“It’s just a matter of time before I start hitting those shots. My teammates are always giving me confidence, telling me to shoot the ball when I’m open. — Fabian White Jr.
Joining an already Final Four focused team late in the season last year on an earlier than expected ACL return, White knew it wasn’t the right time for him to start firing from distance. But he came into this season certain that he could show that his range extends much further than 15 foot baseline jumpers. He worked on it too relentlessly for it to not eventually happen.
This obsessive post practice shooting has turned into something of another tenet of Kelvin Sampson’s program. White is not alone in putting up extra shots — and free throws. Most of the rest of the UH’s big guys are out there with him and Kellen Sampson. Even if most of them are not shooting threes. And many of the guards are down at the other basket, shooting extra shots with assistant Quannas White too.
Fabian White, Taze Moore and the Power of Late Nights
This routine does not just happen right after practice either. Or only when the coaches are around. Taze Moore tells PaperCity that he and many of the other UH players regularly come to the practice facility on their own at midnight or 1 am to shoot more jumpers.
“We’ll bring in a manager and try to shoot late at night,” Moore says. “Try to get some rebounds in. Just clear your mind and work.”
This is the drumbeat — or at least the bouncing basketballs — of a group that is determined to make this Final Four followup season something special of its own.
“This is a program that is here to stay. This is a championship program,” Josh Carlton, the big man transfer from UConn, says. “I know from playing against Houston in the past in the AAC, this is a program that’s been good for a long time. We’re working hard to take that next step. To try and take it further. We’re trying to improve on things.”
A lot of college basketball programs have guys who stay late to shoot, of course. It’s the doing it day after after day after day that can turn it into another potential edge.
Even if you have to do that shooting while sitting in a chair with your leg immobilized at first.
Fabian White Jr. did not just show up in Las Vegas and start hitting threes like a wide-eyed tourist from Muskegon who goes on a lucky run at a blackjack table only to lose it all back — and more — later. This is the new reality he’s been working towards. For more than a year. One extra shooting session at a time.