Culture / Sporting Life

No. 1 Houston Loses Another Key Player For the Season — Super Freshman JoJo Tugler Is Lost to a Devastating Foot Injury

Making It So Much Harder to Win a National Championship For One of the Real Contenders

BY // 03.02.24

NORMAN, Okla. — Talented true freshman forward JoJo Tugler is expected to miss the rest of the season (including the NCAA Tournament) for No. 1 Houston with a stress injury in his right foot, PaperCity Houston has learned. This is a potentially crippling blow to a 25-3 Houston team with a real chance to win the national championship this April.

Tugler joins Terrance Arceneaux (Achilles tear) and Ramon Walker Jr. (meniscus knee injury) as valuable reserves who are out for UH. Kelvin Sampson is now down to a seven man rotation of players he trusts — with only guards Damian Dunn and Mylik Wilson proven commodities off the bench. And Tugler is almost inarguably the biggest loss of all, a 6-foot-8 force who changes games with his 7-foot-6 wingspan and quickly won over Kelvin Sampson’s confidence.

“One big thing happened,” a team source with knowledge of Tugler’s foot injury tells PaperCity. “And then a bunch of little things added on to it. Unfortunately, we’re at this point now.”

The team source notes that after the initial injury repetitive stress made the foot get worse, leading to the decision to shut Tugler down.

With Tugler out for the season, more pressure shifts onto UH’s starting front court of center Ja’Vier Francis and power forward J’Wan Roberts, who is playing through a knee injury of his own that can limit him in quick turnaround games. Francis and Roberts staying out of foul trouble also becomes even more critical.

Cedric Lath, a 6-foot-9 redshirt freshman center who has impressed at times for the reserve team in practices, also figures to be thrust into action. Lath does enter the game in first 10 minutes against Oklahoma on this Saturday night, Houston’s first game without Tugler. Lath ends up playing seven minutes in the first half, collecting two defensive rebounds and not taking a shot.

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Kelvin Sampson had looked at the raw Lath as more of a longer term project until this point.

Losing JoJo Tugler — a block artist and ferocious rebounder — changes that equation, though. This Houston team would not be where it is, sitting atop all the polls, a virtual lock for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and poised to win the Big 12 in its very first season in the best basketball conference in America without Tugler. Kelvin Sampson frequently raves over Tugler, how good he’s going to be in the future and what he had been doing as an 18-year-old freshman.

University of Houston Cougars beat the Penn Quakers at the Fertitta Center, Saturday December 13, 2023
University of Houston freshman forward JoJo Tugler and Kelvin Sampson already have a bond. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Tugler played huge roles in Houston winning at Xavier, beating Texas A&M and downing the University of  Texas at its $375 million arena in overtime and significantly impacted a host of other games this season. Now, he’s in a walking boot, reduced to cheering his teammates on. Both Tugler and Arceneaux, who is also definitely out for the season, made the trip to Norman to do just that.

Walker has a chance to return from his knee injury in the NCAA Tournament, though. “It will be late (in the season), but he’ll have a good chance,” a team source tells PaperCity of Walker, who’s played more of a forward role for UH this season with the Cougars’ front line body challenged.

That is the hope for another day. On this night in Oklahoma, the reality of the loss of JoJo Tugler is hitting college basketball’s top ranked team, a squad that many thought presented Hall of Fame worthy coach Kelvin Sampson with his best chance yet to win a national title yet.

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