Culture / Sporting Life

Kelvin Sampson Rails Against Must Be One and Done Pressure, the Noise Around Freshmen Like Jarace Walker & Terrance Arceneaux — UH’s Coach Speaks Out

College Basketball's Current Reality Makes Little Sense to One of the Nation's Best

BY // 12.14.22

Coaching big time college basketball is not easy. In many ways, it gets harder every year. When Kelvin Sampson’s University of Houston team beat him in Fort Worth, Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett marveled at how Sampson “takes no BS” and demands his players play the right way.

That’s not so easy either. Or simple. And after Sampson’s Cougars blitzed overmatched North Carolina A&T 74-46 on Tuesday night to move to 10-1, Houston’s basketball lifer of a coach gave a rare glimpse into just how hard and complicated that can be in 2022. Sampson spent a major chunk of his postgame press conference railing against the NBA mentality that’s overtaken the game he loves.

Specifically the idea that if a talented young freshman isn’t a one and done, he’s perceived as some sort of failure.

“I look around the country at all these freshmen and I wish I could consult with their families and tell them to leave ’em alone,” Sampson says. “Let ’em fail. Let ’em get through their adversity. Don’t try to save them or help them. Let them have it. It’s good for ’em. It’s so good for ’em.

“But there’s so many parachutes out there. Sometimes you don’t need the parachute. Because they’re going to get it. They’re going to fail at some point. You know, I think the earlier the better.”

Sampson’s fifth-ranked Cougars have two of the more high-profile freshmen in the country, really for the first time during his ultra successful UH run, in McDonald’s All-American Jarace Walker and fellow Top 50 recruit Terrance Arceneaux. The longer Sampson talks on this night — and he talks about this subject for a long largely uninterrupted stretch — it becomes more and more apparent that Houston’s coach is dismayed by all the outside noise swirling around Walker and Arceneaux in particular.

And really all talented young college basketball players in general.

“Here’s the biggest problem with these kids,” Sampson says. “It’s what other people are saying that have no idea what they’re talking about. It’s like Terrance had that great game against Oregon, right? So what do you think people were saying after that? What do you think?”

When Kris Gardner of The Houston Roundball Review offers “One and done,” Sampson is ready, having gotten the response he wanted.

“Really?” Sampson shoots back. “Oregon didn’t guard him. They played a zone and there was nobody within 10 feet every shot he took. Now, this team guarded him tonight and look what he did. He turned it over four times. It’s a lot different playing a zone against no pressure versus somebody up into you. . .

“So is he ready for being a pro? Of course not. But the problem is everybody thinks he is. So now you’re facing these expectations. And Terrance knows he’s not. And I wish people would quit writing that stuff. It’s gross.

“You’ve got to grow.”

Kelvin Sampson has a heck of a team growing at the University of Houston. And on a night when none of the UH starters play more than 24 minutes, a night where Sampson starts sophomore center Ja’Vier Francis and freshman guard Emanuel Sharp (10 points) in the second half instead of usual fixtures J’Wan Roberts and Tramon Mark, it shows off its building depth.

“I look around the country at all this freshmen and I wish I could consult with their families and tell them to leave ’em alone. Let ’em fail. Let ’em get through their adversity.” — UH coach Kelvin Sampson

Jarace Walker will finish with a plus 20 plus/minus rating in 20 minutes of court time against North Carolina A&T, but Sampson knows that it’s the freshman’s relatively modest raw numbers (nine points, four rebounds) that are likely to be dissected by the NBA future-driven Internet basketball verse.

“I feel bad for a lot of these kids at some of these schools that people think should be one and done,” Sampson says. “If Jarace Walker was to stay here three years, when he came out, he would be a monster. A monster. Because he’d be two years older than he is now. He’d have 30 something games this year. Thirty something games next year. And then he’s looking at his third year.

“You know how good he’d be? This year a lot of people say, ‘I thought he’d be better.’ I didn’t. He’s exactly what I thought he’d be. He is a freshman.”

Sampson taps his fingers hard on the table in front of him for emphasis.

The University of Houston Cougars beat the North Carolina A&T Aggies at the Fertitta Center
UH forward Jarace Walker brings a ton of talent to the table. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

This analysis/lecture is clearly something the University of Houston’s coach wants to get out there. Something he thinks people need to hear. Sampson starts it off an innocuous question about Ja’Vier Francis’ impressive rebounding. There is nothing quite like Kelvin Sampson in sports when he starts rolling on a subject.

One of the striking things about this one is that Sampson is usually the one telling everybody else to ignore the noise.

That may be impossible with this particular Houston team. The national spotlight — and everything that comes with it — is not going anywhere. A national TV showdown at No. 2 Virginia looms on Saturday and no one’s going to stop talking about Walker or Arceneaux or many of Sampson’s other talented players for that matter.

Kelvin Sampson and The Marcus Sasser Story

On this Tuesday night, Francis plays like a star, racking up 17 points and 15 rebounds (seven offensive) against an undersized A&T team that has no answers for him. Maybe even more importantly, Francis plays with an all-out energy,  throwing down five dunks in the first half alone, giving a needed jolt to a Cougars team still sapped by that Top 10 fight with Alabama.

UH’s preseason All-American guard Marcus Sasser abandoning the protective mask he played with against Alabama and finding his stoke goes a little more unnoticed. But Sasser shooting 6 for 10, looking more like himself while finishing a game-high plus 26, could be huge heading into Virginia.

“It was great to see the ball go through the goal,” Sasser says when I ask about his night. “But my main focus going into this game was really just playing hard, trying to rebound and impact the game in different ways. Haven’t been shooting it that well so that really wasn’t my main focus going into this game.

“But just went out there and played hard and good things happened. The ball started going through the goal.”

Sasser is a real fourth-year guard in a college basketball world that increasingly seems to worship at the altar of the transfer portal, one of those easy “fixes” — and the one and done or disappointment mentality. Kelvin Sampson loves Marcus Sasser’s Houston journey, from lightly recruited high school player to the clear best player on the No. 5 team in America.

“If Jarace Walker was to stay here three years, when he came out, he would be a monster. A monster.” — UH coach Kelvin Sampson

But how many players are denied the chance to ever develop into a Marcus Sasser by the realties of the college basketball world today and the instant star demands it places on so many players?

The University of Houston Cougars beat the North Carolina A&T Aggies at the Fertitta Center
UH guard Marcus Sasser is one of the best players in the country. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Kelvin Sampson is no fan of the one and done rule, which essentially forces players who don’t care about college to play one season of college basketball. UH’s coach notes how it makes a “mockery” of education. Like NBA commissioner Adam Silver, Sampson is in favor of allowing high school players to jump straight to the league. Houston’s coach has no use for the instant judging — and discounting — of players who do not make a quick jump into pro basketball, though.

Sampson has no patience for anyone who’d make a Jarace Walker or Terrance Arceneaux feel like they’re underperforming. By just sometimes playing like freshman.

Longtime Villanova coach Jay Wright expressed similar concerns and downright skepticism over the state of college basketball — the transfer portal, new NIL realities and NBA-only obsession — at the NCAA Tournament last March, less than a month before he suddenly retired at age 60. No one expects the 67-year-old Kelvin Sampson to retire anytime soon. He’s at the top of his game and seemingly has years of coaching left.

But the fact that coaches like Wright and Sampson — two of the giants and true teachers in the profession — are sounding the alarm should mean something.

Coaching big time college basketball is harder than ever these days. Even for a Hall of Fame level basketball coach with one of the best teams in America. That’s something to think about.

Hop into Bering's this Easter for Egg-citing Finds!
Shop Berings

Featured Properties