Culture / Sporting Life

Beating Longhorns — Jamal Shead, Hollis Price and the Undeniable Legacy of a Houston v. UT Game

UH's Point Guard Isn't Just Heading Home to Play Texas, He's Taking His Shot at Generational Greatness and a Potential Big 12 Player of the Year Push

BY // 01.29.24

AUSTIN — Hollis Price understands how big playing the University of Texas is. The former Oklahoma star for Kelvin Sampson. who now works for Sampson as a special assistant on the University of Houston’s elite staff, knows how these Texas games stick with you like few others. You don’t forget an Oklahoma-Texas game. Just like Jamal Shead and the Coogs aren’t likely to forget their first shot at UT.

“I remember all of them,” Price tells PaperCity with a smile. “I think I lost two games to (Texas) in my four years. I remember all the games. As a matter of fact, I lost my last two games to them in my senior year. But freshman to junior year, I won every game against them. So it’s a special place at Texas, playing against those guys.

“So it’s going to be fun.”

And monumental. When No. 4 Houston (18-2) plays at unranked Texas (14-6) in a 8 pm Big Monday ESPN showdown, it will be one of only two shots the two proud programs get against each other before UT leaves the Big 12 for the SEC next season (the second will take place February 17 in Houston). Anyone who tells you Houston v. Texas is just another game is living in denial. Or trying to downplay the real truth.

For once, the University of Houston is not some quaint underdog in matchup with mighty Texas. Not in basketball. In fact, Kelvin Sampson’s Houston program has roared right by Texas in the national picture. The Longhorns will be Monday night underdogs on their home floor. Sampson is rather used to beating UT. He went 18-9 against Texas as Oklahoma’s coach, including a string of eight straight Sooner wins from 2000 through 2003.

Kelvin Sampson is as proud and competitive as they come. And so is his point guard Jamal Shead. For Shead, this game at UT represents something of a homecoming. He grew up in Manor, a suburb just 15 miles from downtown Austin. When Houston’s first Big 12 basketball schedule came out, Shead admitted he immediately looked to see when the game at the University of Texas would be.

He did his best to downplay that in a brief session with a few reporters on Sunday, with Shead even saying he’s unsure if he’ll have more friends and family than usual at the game. “Actually, I don’t,” Shead says when I ask him if he knows how many people he has coming. “I don’t think we have that many guest tickets, Honestly, it’s really just like a regular away game.

“We’re just trying to get a Road Dub.”

Houston v. Texas on Big Monday is not just another game of course. It is the schools’ first basketball meeting in 11 years, with that one only coming about because of a postseason matching in the College Basketball Invitational. UH and UT seemed set up to meet (and play for a Final Four berth in Houston) last March in an NCAA Tournament regional. That’s certainly what those mischievous NCAA Tournament Selection Committee members anticipated happening. But Houston lost to Miami in the Sweet 16 and then Texas fell to that same hot Miami team in the Elite Eight.

Now, it is finally happening again. Houston vs. Texas brings Jamal Shead more than a homecoming. It’s a prime chance for him to boost his Big 12 Player of the Year case. Shead is starting to get more national attention for everything he does for this Top Four Houston team, how he often completely controls both the offensive and defensive ends of the court.

A big game against Texas in a showcase spot would make Shead’s heavy lifting impossible to ignore.

“He’s locked in at a level where some of the top point guards in the nation are,” Price tells PaperCity. “His mindset in practice is carrying over to these games. And I’m so proud of him. His maturity.”

Hollis Price Oklahoma
Hollis Price knows that any win over the University of Texas is sweet. He enjoyed a number of them while playing for Kelvin Sampson at Oklahoma.

Jamal Shead’s teammates know how much this game means to their beloved point guard. They also know that Jamal Shead would never try to make this Texas game about himself.

“First time back home in a while — I know he’s going to be a lot of juiced up,” UH power forward J’Wan Roberts says of Shead. “Fan base is going to be crazy for him. And I know how he’s going to perform. But he’s not going to play — just because he’s going back home, he’s not going to play to the crowd. He’s locked in.

“He does what he’s supposed to do for us every game. He’s our team leader. So going into that game, we’re going to lean on him.”

“I remember all of them. I think I lost two games to (Texas) in my four years. I remember all the games. As a matter of fact, I lost my last two games to them in my senior year. But freshman to junior year, I won every game against them. So it’s a special place at Texas, playing against those guys.” — Hollis Price on playing UT

Shead has a way of providing whatever his team needs. With a Houston offense that’s still a work in progress bogging down early in the second half of Saturday’s win over Kansas State, the unselfish point guard takes it upon himself to get it going. Shead scores UH’s first seven points of the half, allowing his teammates to settle in and for a top four team to get rolling again. Just the game before that, Shead keeps finding his backcourt partner LJ Cryer in the second half, urging Houston’s best shooter to take every good look he can. He gives talented but sometimes unsure center Ja’Vier Francis confidence too, continuing to feed Francis the ball even if the big man commits a turnover or misses a few shots.

“Jamal makes everybody around him better,” Kansas State coach Jerome Tang says. “He makes good college players look like all-conference guys. That’s just what great point guards do. And having been here and understanding Coach Sampson wants. . . I actually watched (Baylor’s) Final Four game (vs. Houston in 2021), the last couple of days.

“And I remember at the end of the game, (Jamal) gets in the game and he actually misses a shot and gets an offensive rebound and you can see him. Like even though he was in for only a few seconds, he just has this competitiveness about him. And he holds his team accountable out there. And when you have a player that’s holding players accountable it helps the coaching staff.”

Jamal Shead, Fast Starts and UT Moments

As those dominating starts, these Cougars keep getting off to? Well, Hollis Price largely credits that to Jamal Shead’s will too.

“The thing is it’s always the point of attack,” Price tells PaperCity. “And when Jamal is going, everybody kind of follows.”

Hollis Price knows what that’s like the lead the way to win(s) over Texas. He scored 46 points in Oklahoma’s three game sweep of Texas during its 2001-2002 Final Four season, dropped 48 points total on the Longhorns during the Sooners’ three game sweep of UT the season before that. Hollis Price used to be a very bad man with the basketball in his hands And there is something different about taking it to Texas.

Something Jamal Shead will get to try and experience for the first time on this Big Monday.

“Honestly, it’s our next game,” Price says now of this Houston-Texas tilt. “It just so happen to be that UT is one of the biggest schools in the state. And it’s you know. . . it’s just another game to us.”

With that Hollis Price flashes one of his killer smiles. Houston vs. Texas is here. No one needs to hype it. Or even speak the full truth out loud. But everyone knows the real final score.

There is nothing quite like beating the University of Texas. But losing to the Longhorns may linger even longer. Price, now a few decades removed from those Oklahoma days and part of one of the best basketball staffs in America, brings up ending his college career with two losses to Texas more than once in our relatively brief conversation.

But yeah, it’s just another game. Sure it is.