Culture / Sporting Life

Marcus Sasser Hasn’t Completely Ruled Out Returning to Play in This NCAA Tournament For Houston

The Injured UH Star is Pushing and Hoping, But Kelvin Sampson Letting Him Play May Be Another Matter

BY // 03.13.22

FORT WORTH — Marcus Sasser breaks into a grin when asked if he’s still pushing to try and come back this season. The injured star guard’s been quietly doing that behind the scenes for months — even before he ever got his walking boot off. And after watching his guys clinch a double championship — both regular season and conference tournament in the American Athletic Conference — Sasser allows himself to dream.

“I’ve just got a couple of more X-rays I’ve got to do and I’ll see from there,” Sasser tells PaperCity. “I don’t even know yet… I want to, but it depends on how far they go. Maybe. Maybe not.”

UH assistant Quannas White first told me in February that Sasser had been pushing to come back at some point behind the scenes, using Fabian White Jr.’s miraculous comeback from a torn ACL last season as inspiration. But nobody around the program really knew how realistic that push was at the time. Whether UH head coach Kelvin Sampson — the ultimate godfather of the program — would even entertain the idea of Sasser coming back in a tournament game is another matter. Sampson’s always been player health first.

Sampson is about the big picture — and having a completely healthy Marcus Sasser back for next season could overrule any notion of a return. Sampson has said more than once that Sasser will not be returning this season. A player as competitive and team focused as Marcus Sasser is always going to push to try and play. Even after only breaking his foot in December.

The difference now is that Sasser has been out of the boot for a while and shooting on his own. The UH coaches will often have to chase him off the court now with Sasser trying to get involved in practice despite what anyone says.

“I feel good,” Sasser says to a larger group of reporters. “Rehab is going great. Just trying to get better every day.”

Marcus Sasser and Jamal Shead’s Point Guard Bond

Even while he hasn’t been playing Sasser has been serving as his replacement Jamal Shead’s sounding board. Shead jokes about how Sasser is always waiting for him in his room after games, eager to break down what he saw from the bench that he thinks can help the 19-year-old point guard.

“Marcus has been a huge help to me,” Shead tells PaperCity. “Anything he can do for me. Anything he can tell me. He’s all about this team continuing to win.”

University of Houston Cougars men’s basketball team defeated the Tulane Green Wave, Wednesday night at the Fertitta Cente
UH point guard Jamal Shead can get to the rim. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Shead has emerged as one of the best young point guards in the country, leading the AAC in assists, putting up 10 points and six assists in a guts-out 71-53 win over Memphis in the conference title game on this Selection Sunday. And Sasser has loved every moment of seeing his young teammate emerge. It’s helped make the torture of having to watch his guys play from the bench a little easier.

“I’m just doing my best to contribute,” Sasser says. “Telling them what I know. Trying to just make him better. You see the game from a different perspective when you’re not playing. So you see see things (Shead) don’t see.”

To Houston’s coaches, this level of involvement while hurt is pure Marcus Sasser.

“Just him being engaged speaks volumes about his character,” UH assistant Quannas White tells PaperCity. “How unselfish he is. Because you know he wants to be out there on the floor with his teammates.

“. . . He still feels like he’s a part of it. That just kind of goes back to talking about our culture and what Coach Sampson has set in stone here for our guys. Big family environment. Marcus has just been great for those guys even when he’s not playing. Him and (fellow injured guard) Tramon (Mark) both.”

Sasser almost assuredly will be in his another coach on the bench role in Houston’s tournament opener against a dangerous 27-7 UAB team on Friday in Pittsburgh. But he’ll keep pushing for more, hoping those X-rays give him further clearance.

“We have conversations,” White says. “What I tell him is just be patient. It goes back to Quentin (Grimes). Quentin not leaving after his first year (at Houston). . . Marcus just needs to be patient with his injury and when it’s completely 100 percent healed, he’ll be back. That’s what I talk to him about.

“Don’t rush back, man. Just be patient. I know how hungry and eager you are to be back out here with your guys, but you’ve just got to make sure you’re completely healthy.”

This Houston team is full of guys who want to push themselves to the limits — and then push harder. Fabian White crashing into a press table, relentlessly chasing after a loose ball, bad back and all in this conference title game, is just one screaming example of how much UH’s unquestioned leader wanted this Memphis game. How much they all did. White ends up half under the table with drinks spilling down. Several of his teammates come running over with Kyler Edwards screaming “Hell yeah!”

It turns out to the final spark that this Houston team needs to beat Memphis for the first time this season. And Marcus Sasser couldn’t have been more pumped to see it from the bench, jumping up in a black sweatsuit with his rehab diehard Tramon Mark at his side.

“I see it every day,” Sasser says. “I had no doubt we’d win this game today.”

Now, Marcus Sasser is trying to win rehab. And get The Godfather on board.

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