Culture / Sporting Life

How ‘Natural Teammate’ Jarace Walker Already Fits Kelvin Sampson’s Top 10 UH Program — Veteran Coach Excited By All the Young Talent

Highly-Rated Freshmen Class of Walker, Terrance Arceneaux and Emanuel Sharp Has Plenty of Youthful Company on This Houston Roster

BY // 05.17.22

Jarace Walker arrives on the University of Houston’s campus as the first five star recruit of the Kelvin Sampson era, a McDonald’s All-American and an athletic wonder. But those aren’t the reasons that UH lead assistant Kellen Sampson considers the high-level prospect a perfect fit for a program that hasn’t dabbled in one and dones.

“There are certainly intangibles about him,” Kellen Sampson tells PaperCity when Walker is brought up. “He’s a natural giver. He’s a natural teammate. The best attribute he does — his best skillset — might be his passing.”

Jarace Walker, four star forward Terrance Arceneaux and four star guard Emanuel Sharp are not just another freshman class joining a UH program that followed up a 2021 Final Four run with an Elite Eight berth. They’re the highest rated class of the Sampson era — three consensus Top 100 players. And Kelvin Sampson, Houston’s 66-year-old basketball lifer of a coach, already seems excited to coach these teenagers.

With the UH basketball team’s first team meeting of the summer session still several weeks away, Sampson is already anticipating plenty of face time with the program’s youngest players.

“I don’t spend a lot of time with our veterans (during the summer),” Kelvin Sampson tells PaperCity. “I spend a lot of time with Jarace Walker, Terrance Arceneaux, Emanuel Sharp. (Sophomore guard) Ramon Walker’s still in that group. (Sophomore froward) Ja’Vier Francis is in that group. (Redshirt sophomore forward) Kiyron Powell.

“We’ve got a lot of good young players. And I believe in these guys.”

The University of Houston Cougars basketball team defeated the University of Central Florida, Thursday night at the Fertitta Center
Houston guard Ramon Walker Jr. hit some big threes for a shorthanded Houston team. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Spending a little time with both Kelvin and Kellen Sampson this last weekend, it quickly became clear how the excitement level over the season to come is already building up in both. UH will hold its first team meeting the night of June 5 before the summer workout sessions begin on June 6.

It’s still a long way off till October, but what figures to be UH’s most publicized season nationally (from beginning to end) since the Phi Slama Jama years is going to bring a new type of spotlight to Cullen Boulevard and the most consistent winner in Houston sports.

Sampson’s team will no doubt begin the season ranked in the Top 10 — and maybe the Top 5 if difference making guard Marcus Sasser returns after testing the NBA waters.

“I don’t care about that,” Kelvin Sampson says of the Top 10 preseason hoopla. “I think when you’re younger you do. But when you’re 66 years old, you don’t care. It’s like me worrying about other people’s opinion.

“Are you kidding me? Really. Do you think I really  care what other people think or say. It don’t matter. Really, what does it matter what other people think? We do the best we can.”

Which also means doing right by this freshman class of Walker, Arceneaux and Sharp. Yes, it’s the highest rated recruiting class Kelvin Sampson has had in his soon-to-be nine season in Houston. Yes, Jarace Walker is a 6-foot-8, 220-pound physical force with the skill to be one of his team’s best passers (four assists and several could-have-been assist setups in the McDonald’s All-American Game and disruptors (three steals and a block in that high-level talent showcase). Yes, Terrance Arceneaux is a two-time Texas high school state champion with an impressive wingspan, an above the rim game and a penchant for making big plays in big moments. Yes, Emanuel Sharp is a 6-foot-4 natural scorer who’s already been on a campus and with the UH program since his January early enrollment.

Yes, this is a different type of freshman class. But that does not mean Walker, Arceneaux and Sharp will be treated any differently. Not in this UH program.

“One of the best things you can do is keep it incredibly normal,” Kellen Sampson says. “Look, it doesn’t matter how highly ranked, their job as a freshman is you’ve got to learn how to bite back.

“If you’ve got a good program, your upperclassmen — sophomores, juniors, seniors — know how to bite first. They know how to be in attack mode because that’s what they’re wired to do. As a freshman, you may not be wired to bite first. But you’ve got to learn how to bite back.

“Our upperclassmen should be ahead of them. J’Wan Roberts is walking into year four. Reggie Chaney is walking into year three. Ja’Vier Francis is walking into year two. Kiyron Powell is walking into year three. If (Jarace) looks at our front court, we’ve got a lot of guys with a lot of experience making our stuff work.”

Jarace Walker and the Power of Competition

This Houston program is built on competition — and both Sampsons made that clear to Jarace Walker even as they wooed him.

“We didn’t sugar coat the recruiting process with him,” Kellen Sampson tells PaperCity. “He knew walking in, this was what it was going to be. We’re a program that does develop. We’re a program that doesn’t run around here and tell guys how great they are. Just paint a strawberries and dandelions existence. . . No.

“We were really honest that this is a grind, man. This is blue collar, bring your lunch pail, hard hat type basketball.”

Jarace Walker told the Sampsons that he wanted that type of coaching. This uber talent is coming to the University of Houston to get better.

That process starts earlier than many even devout college basketball fans realize. While at dinner with his family Friday night — a little pregame meal before he threw out the first pitch before a UH baseball game — Kelvin Sampson remarked to his daughter-in-law Tonya Sampson (Kellen’s wife, a former college basketball player and coach herself) how early everything actually begins these days.

Still, on this evening, Kelvin Sampson seems more than energized and excited to get things going on June 6. When the entire 2022-23 team and staff will be in the weight room to get summer workouts rolling. Part of that excitement centers around all the young talent Sampson has to work with — to bring up to speed with that established super backcourt of Jamal Shead, Tramon Mark and potentially Marcus Sasser.

“We’ve got a lot of good young players. And I believe in these guys.” — UH coach Kelvin Sampson

Even Jarace Walker — the biggest recruiting coup of Kelvin Sampson’s UH run — is not guaranteed anything. But these freshmen will have a chance to compete. Don’t be taken aback if one even turns into a big surprise.

“You just can’t overstate how big of a jump start, a kick start, coming early is for a guy like Emanuel Sharp, who I think many people have forgotten about in this recruiting class,” Kellen Sampson says. “Because he didn’t play, got hurt and Jarace is so celebrated. Terrance had such an awesome high school career, locally he’s kind of known.

“But Emanuel Sharp, if he had played last summer — but he didn’t because he broke his leg — he’s a guy that could have been a Top 50 potential recruit. Could have been on a lot of people’s who’s who list. Then he came to us early — and I think people are going to be surprised.

“He’s really good.”

Emanuel Sharp just may be the surprise of Kelvin Sampson’s highest ranked University of Houston recruiting class. (Photo by UH Athletics)

This is how one of the best programs in all of college basketball reloads. With another level of talent. And, maybe even more importantly, with a purpose. With young guys who want to work.

“We were really honest that this is a grind, man. This is blue collar, bring your lunch pail, hard hat type basketball.” — UH assistant Kellen Sampson on recruiting Jarace Walker

Jarace Walker knows. It’s still lunch pails over highlight reels in Kelvin Sampson’s Houston program. Walker signed on for that too.

For more of Chris Baldwin’s extensive, detailed and unique insider coverage of UH sports — stories you cannot read anywhere else — bookmark this page. Follow Baldwin on Twitter here.

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