Culture / Sporting Life

Houston’s Hard Work Champions Show Why the Nation’s 6th Ranked Team is No Mirage — Inside UH’s Sweat Culture

Taze Moore, Fabian White Jr., Kyler Edwards and Rest of The Leftovers Embrace the Extra Kelvin Sampson's Program Demands

BY // 02.03.22

The game’s long over, the stands are empty and a shirtless Taze Moore is back out on the Fertitta Center court, shooting jumper after jumper after jumper. Moore’s white shirt already got completely soaked through with thick perspiration. It rests on one of those empty seats. The University of Houston guard isn’t limiting this postgame practice to just jumpers either. He’ll do a full lap, down the court and back, the kind of a sprint a coach might give as punishment.

Only, Taze Moore is out there by himself. No coach is telling him to do this. He’s pushing himself.

“Going 5 for 17,” Moore says after he finally leaves the court, “I had to shoot.”

Moore tells PaperCity that he semi frequently shoots after games, but admits he felt a special urgency on this night. He quickly credits the student manager who stayed behind to rebound for him before heading towards a nearly deserted UH locker room to finally shower.

If you’re wondering how this University of Houston basketball team is 19-2 and ranked sixth in the country despite injuries that could cripple the biggest of power programs, this postgame scene is a good place to look. A Cougar player staying long after a win to get jumpers up on an empty court.

Or you could come before or after almost any intense Kelvin Sampson practice (the coach doesn’t believe in any other type of practice) and see players like Fabian White Jr. working on their own game. Working extra. Coming early and staying late. Day after day after day.

Sweat Culture. It matters. And the remaining healthy and semi healthy players on this depleted UH team are crazy enough to think it can drive them to a Final Four repeat. A combative Tulane team isn’t likely argue with that logic. Not after giving everything it has — and still walking out of Houston’s gym with a 73-62 loss on this Wednesday night.

That’s the thing. While a number of national college basketball commentators and prognosticators may continue to doubt this wounded, depth light UH squad, the teams that play the Cougars know better. Eventually. Sure, teams like Tulane note Houston’s shiny No. 6 ranking, look at who’s sidelined and see a prime upset opportunity.

Almost everyone thinks they should be able to beat these Cougars with Marcus Sasser in a boot and Tramon Mark sitting next to him on the bench with a busted up shoulder. Then. . . those teams lose.

“We’re 19-2, 8-0 (in the AAC),” Kelvin Sampson says. “So if you want to take that and run with it, go at it. Our team knows how to win. There’s a lot to be said about that.”

That’s about as defiant as you’ll hear Houston’s program lifting coach ever be. Sampson seems to be getting tired of those who try and pick apart UH’s wins. Yes, Houston clangs 23 of the 31 threes it takes against Tulane. Yes, the Cougars go 7 for 15 from the free throw line, a percentage more fitting for a John Calipari coached team. Yes, Sampson’s squad commits an uncharacteristic 14 turnovers (with the repentant Moore contributing four of those).

And. . . UH still wins its 11th straight game, collects its 17th double digit win of the season. Sweat Culture. Being the champions of hard work matters. Especially for this team.

“We’re not a good shooting team,” Sampson says. “We’ve got some good shooters. The problem is they’ve got a boot on. You can’t go to the waiver wire and go grab somebody. We are what we are.

“That’s why every win this group gets is a great win.”

UH’s Player Driven Team

Now, UH’s players are the ones who are getting upset after wins. Moore even gives himself an extra miss when he talks to me. He actually went 5 for 16 while contributing an important 12 points, six assists and five rebounds. With a big push from the player leadership of Fabian White Jr., this is becoming a very self driven team. When you get that and Kelvin Sampson pushing for more. . . well, maybe the notion of another Final Four run isn’t so insane.

University of Houston Cougars men’s basketball team defeated the Tulane Green Wave, Wednesday night at the Fertitta Cente
University of Houston forward Fabian White Jr. always brings the intensity. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

It’s getting to the point where White and Kyler Edwards are almost refusing to let Houston lose. White, the 6-f00t-8 forward who’s transformed himself from a decent 15-foot jump shooter into a legit 3-point threat, drops 21 points on Tulane. Already more than capable of scraping inside, White’s now one of the most versatile players in America. There aren’t many college basketball players who can get eight rebounds and a block while hitting three triples on 50 percent marksmanship.

“It’s just something I work on every day with Coach Kellen (Sampson),” White tells PaperCity. “All the work we do during the season, before the season, is coming to work.”

When you play for the University of Houston, even your expressions start to work hard. If these Houston players are The Leftovers — the ones who heard the outside talk that their season was going to be left behind without the dynamic Marcus Sasser and super talented Tramon Mark — they’re embracing it. With a relentless ferocity.

Sweat Culture.

Kyler Edwards’ Defensive Master Class

Edwards sticks to Jalen Cook, the Green Wave’s most explosive scorer, like a Post-it. Even when Cook thinks Edwards is gone, he’s still there, clinging to him, contesting almost every shot. Edwards plays all 40 minutes on a night when Houston’s only other steady ball handler (Jamal Shead) is saddled with foul trouble. Cook, who shot 3 for 12, probably wishes he could have subbed Edwards out.

Almost everyone thinks they should be able to beat these Cougars with Marcus Sasser in a boot and Tramon Mark sitting next to him on the bench with a busted up shoulder. Then. . . those teams lose.

Coming in from Texas Tech as a highly sought after transfer, Edwards needed to adjust to a completely different defensive scheme. Yes, both Texas Tech — another legitimate Texas Final Four contender — and Houston are dominant defensive programs that make opposing scorers want to scream. But Texas Tech’s No Middle Defense is completely different from the schemes the Cougars run under Sampson.

But it already somehow looks like Kyler Edwards could teach a Master Class in Cougar defense.

“They have a great defense,” Sampson says of the Red Raiders. “But our schemes and the way we play is way different than the way they play.

“I say that to give a shout out to Kyler. Because he’s had to completely change not just terminology, but how you guard ball screens. How you guard the ball the side to the floor. In the slots. Slots to sideline. Traps on the baseline. There’s so many things he had to learn. And we’re putting him on the other team’s best player.”

The want to and the basketball IQ of this University of Houston team are both probably vastly underrated. UConn transfer Josh Carlton has always been a thinking man’s big man. But now he is using his intelligence on the floor, while letting himself play more free. On this night, Carlton puts up 14 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in only 22 minutes. And reserve forward Reggie Chaney gets a whopping five blocks in only 17 minutes.

Tesla only wishes its cars were that efficient.

University of Houston Cougars men’s basketball team defeated the Tulane Green Wave, Wednesday night at the Fertitta Cente
Kyler Edwards and Taze Moore know you have to be strong to play for the University of Houston. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Ron Hunter’s Tulane team does its best to throw Houston off its game with extra physical play with both teams having to be separated after some pushing (and plenty of trash talk) at the end of the first half. With the Green Wave seemingly upset by a 7-2 closing spurt that pushes UH’s lead to 11 at the break. But nothing much comes of all that yapping.

Though former UH football great Ed Oliver, the Buffalo Bills’ whirling dervish of an impact defensive tackle, sure seems to enjoy it, sitting on the front row of the opposite baseline. Thankfully, no one tries to take Ed Oliver’s jacket. And no one can take this Houston winning streak.

Kelvin Sampson’s team is never really challenged after White and Co. push the lead to 13 with seven minutes remaining. When the game’s over, splotches of bright red blood dot the bottom corner of Fabian White’s white UH jersey.

Not that he notices it. This is Houston basketball.

“It’s all about coming to work,” White tells PaperCity.

“Going 5 for 17, I had to shoot (extra).” — UH guard Taze Moore

Sweat Culture. It’s hard to beat UH’s Hard Work Champions. As White heads for the locker room, obviously spent and semi exhausted, Taze Moore is back out there on that empty court, shooting jumpers. Working up more sweat.

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