Culture / Sporting Life

The NBA Life of Quentin Grimes and How It’s Lifting Up Kelvin Sampson’s UH Program — Building the Pro Pipeline

Developing Pros Means Even More to Recruits Than the Final Four

BY // 05.05.22

Quentin Grimes still regularly texts his former University of Houston coaches, still seeking some of the guidance that helped turn him into one of the New York Knicks’ potential young building blocks. Grimes remains very connected to the program, particularly to assistant coach Quannas White.

“A lot of what I tell him is he’s at the highest level, just continue to do what he’s been doing here,” White tells PaperCity. “Just keep staying in the gym, working hard and keep holding his follow through.

“That’s what I text him and he always laughs. We’re always talking about holding his follow through.”

In truth, Grimes’ follow through has the potential to power the UH program almost just as much as that 2021 Final Four run and this March’s Elite Eight follow up. For Grimes building upon a promising NBA rookie season, one that had notoriously hardline Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau professing his love for the UH product’s fierce competitive nature, would further lift Kelvin Sampson’s program too.

Grimes is doing what every current Houston player wants to do, what almost every single college basketball player in America yearns to do. Making a mark in the NBA. And Grimes is doing it while giving Kelvin Sampson, Kellen Sampson, Quannas White and the rest of the UH coaches plenty of credit for preparing him for basketball at its highest level.

“I’ve got to give all the credit to Coach Sampson,” Grimes tells PaperCity. “He really installed that hard hat mentality in me. Work our hardest every day. And that’s all I do with the Knicks.”

The University of Houston Cougars basketball team defeated the University of Central Florida, Thursday night at the Fertitta Center
Quentin Grimes, who is impressing as a rookie with the New York Knicks, received a rousing welcome back from the Houston crowd. At his left, Armani Brooks has proven himself to be very NBA worthy too. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Grimes — and Armoni Brooks, who earned a two-year contract and even a few playoff minutes with the Toronto Raptors — are walking, talking and shooting examples of what almost every high-level recruit looks for when considering a school.

“Kids don’t grow up wanting to be great college players,” Kelvin Sampson says. “They all grow up wanting to play in the NBA.”

The ability to help make guys like Quentin Grimes — and Josh Carlton from this season’s team, who’s gone from buried on the bench at UConn to an a legit pro prospect after one season with Sampson — better is what UH is selling as much as major March wins. Maybe even more.

“We’re a development program,” Quannas White says. “We hang our hats on development. That’s what Coach preaches. And these guys, it’s a credit to them. They come in here and work really hard. And they listen. And the proof is in the pudding.”

That is certainly true for Grimes, who turned a somewhat disappointing freshman season at Kansas into a beyond memorable two year run with Houston. One that ended with him getting picked in the first round of the NBA Draft. But continuing to embrace a guy like Armoni Brooks, who many felt left UH a season too early, is just as important.

Kelvin Sampson never publicly questioned Brooks’ decision to go pro after that Sweet 16 loss to Kentucky in 2019. Instead, the UH coaches only continued to support Brooks, offering him counsel whenever asked.

“It just shows we’re a family here,” Brooks tells PaperCity. “Once you leave, you’re always a part of it. To be able to see the players that came through and talk about the memories that y’all made. Just having great support here.

“That means a lot.”

Players notice that kind of thing. Recruits pick up on it. Parents recognize it.

If UH fans are looking for Kelvin Sampson to put a hard sell on Marcus Sasser, the talented guard who’s testing the NBA waters (as PaperCity first reported) and has until June 1 to decide whether he’ll return to Houston or not, they’re looking at the wrong program. Sampson believes in letting his players make their own decisions when it comes to an NBA leap. He just wants them to do it from an informed basis.

Grimes is a shining example of what can be done to players like Sasser and Tramon Mark, the NBA level talent who has already committed to returning next season. Quannas White just hopes that the path that Quentin Grimes actually took is recognized.

“A lot of the time, guys make those decisions based on sometimes leaving too early,” White tells PaperCity. “Quentin and his family made a great decision to have him come back for another year (after his first season in Houston).

“I think that really helped him.”

Quentin Grimes on Going to Kelvin Sampson School and Knicks Fans

Playing for a coach as demanding as Kelvin Sampson certainly helped prepare Grimes for life in the NBA under Tom Thibodeau, one of the few taskmasters left in the Association. “I came into the league used to working hard,” Grimes says.

Thibodeau noticed that. And the fact that the 21-year-old Grimes already held an advanced feel for shot selection, something the freedom and responsibility that Kelvin Sampson gives his guards helped develop.

“I love Grimes. I love Grimes,” Thibodeau told the Knicks beat writers during the season. “He’s a fierce competitor, can shoot the ball, can guard multiple positions — and he’s only going to get better.

“You look at his shot profile, it was great in college. It’s been great in the pros. So that’s an important part of winning. Then to see the way he guards people, his competitiveness. That stands out.”

“We’re a development program. We hang our hats on development. That’s what Coach preaches. And these guys, it’s a credit to them. They come in here and work really hard.” — UH assistant Quannas White

The passion of Knicks fans stands out to Grimes, who instantly felt a connection with a Madison Square Garden crowd that can be slow to warm to some players. But not this Q.

“It’s crazy,” Grimes tells PaperCity. “They live and die with it. They want somebody to go out there and play hard, play the right way. I’m like ‘I’m going to do that every time I step out there on the court.’ ”

That is what Quentin Grimes did playing for UH, helping get Kelvin Sampson to his second Final Four. Now, Grimes is still helping Sampson’s program every day in the NBA. Just by being the player he became at the University of Houston he’s showing the way.

To potential future recruits. And even to the current Cougars who played with him.

“You see these guards who came through UH doing their thing and playing in NBA, it gives you a good feeling,” Tramon Mark says. “We’re going to do that too.

“It just makes us all work even harder to try and keep that (NBA pipeline) going. Just be grateful you’re in that spot, knowing if you have a good season, you’ll be noticed and have your chance too.”

Quentin Grimes is making the most of his NBA chances, pure jumper by pure jumper, offseason workout after offseason workout, hard practice after practice. He’s even finding out how big — and fun — of a fishbowl playing for the Knicks in the Big Apple can be. The New York Times wrote an entire feature on Grimes’ TikTok prowess.

“It’s been great, really,” Grimes tells PaperCity. “It’s cold though. I love it though. It’s a great city. I love it out there.”

The love is mutual with Knicks fans already. And every Grimes step is invaluable to Kelvin Sampson’s Houston program too.

“I’m just very proud of him,” Quannas White, the coach who worked with Grimes before almost every UH practice, says. “That’s what I text him a lot. Just how proud I am of him.”

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