Culture / Sporting Life

DeJon Jarreau’s Selfless Act After Houston’s Crushing Final Four Loss Shows These Banner Boys Will Always Be Brothers — Together Forever in History

With Marcus Sasser Hurting, Jarreau Steps in, Saying Plenty About a Special Team and Kelvin Sampson's Program

BY // 04.04.21

INDIANAPOLIS —  Marcus Sasser’s face is buried in a towel, almost completely covered as the tears flow. But DeJon Jarreau is holding him up, helping guide him off the floor and back to the locker room in a hug. If this is the last look we will get of this historic University of Houston basketball team, it is a beyond fitting one.

Jarreau, the fearless, no-pain-cannot-be-overcome point guard who’s grown so much on and off the court during his years at UH, is suffering, having played the worst game of his brilliant season in the Final Four. But Jarreau still takes time to comfort his younger teammate. To make sure Sasser knows that these Cougars and their bond will not be broken by a loss on college basketball’s grandest stage.

UH’s senior holds up the sophomore, tries to take some of his younger teammate’s hurt away. That’s how Jarreau and Sasser will disappear into the the long corridor leading under the stands at Lucas Oil Stadium. Beaten, but still brothers forever.

It ends with Baylor 78, Houston 59 on this hulking NFL stadium’s scoreboard. But it also ends with Kelvin Sampson’s team as together as ever. Fighting together in a second half that prevents UH’s showcase moment from ever dissolving into anything close to an embarrassment. Crying together in the locker room.

“Just a lot of love being passed around,” Sasser says of this special team’s final night together. “Just supporting each other like we’ve been doing all season. Telling each other how much we appreciate them seniors for all that they’ve done for us this year. And just. . .

Sasser stops, sniffling, his hand covering part of his face. “That’s it,” he finally says, even quieter than before.

Marcus Sasser isn’t the only Cougar who feels like his heart has been ripped out — and thrown on the floor.

“The locker room was really emotional,” Kelvin Sampson says. “Those guys invested a lot in this.”

This Houston team’s remarkable run is over after 24 straight days together, essentially staying in their own bubble, taking the program to heights it has not seen since the days of Phi Slama Jama, heights many never thought it could touch again. The Cougar players and coaches have been gone from campus since they left for the American Athletic Conference tournament on March 11. They’ve spent the last 21 nights in the NCAA’s Indianapolis bubble, largely hunkered down on their own designated floor in their downtown hotel, earning themselves a permanent place in the Fertitta Center rafters along the way.

In the locker room afterwards, amid all the pain, the disappointment and the tears, Sampson gathers his players together, the team that got him back to the Final Four after 19 seasons and a path few others could have endured, and tells them they’re legendary.

This is how this historic University of Houston basketball team will go out too. Together in one final locker room, the debris of a season ended all around them. But together as always. Beaten, but still brothers forever.

“This loss stings today,” Sampson says. “And it will sting tomorrow. But we’ll get through this. Losing in the Final Four to one of the two best teams in the country — we’re not going to hold our heads or hang our heads over that.”

The Cougars happened to be the third best team in the country in a year when college basketball has two legit super teams. Scott Drew’s now 27-2 Baylor team is beyond good, maybe even good enough that they should be the team favored when they meet undefeated Gonzaga in the national championship game showdown that almost everyone nationally wanted to see all along.

Baylor brings the defense and rebounding of Houston (28-4) while adding one of the best offenses in the college game. The Bears shoot 57 percent from the field in the first half, hit eight 3-pointers. DeJon Jarreau, Quentin Grimes and Co. are caught in an avalanche, desperately trying to hold onto that one last tree branch for dear life.

Sasser, the three star recruit from Red Oak in the shadows of Dallas, is that little, strong branch for most of the first 20 minutes. The sophomore scores 15 of Houston’s first 17 points, hitting not one, not two, not three, but five 3-pointers. If his teammates are blinking a little under the blinding bright lights of this stage, Jim Nantz on the mic, Final Four logos everywhere, Sasser is just rising up.

Houston v Baylor
Marcus Sasser kept hitting threes early, desperately trying to keep Houston closer to Baylor. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

“Just doing everything to try and help my team win,” Sasser says softly.

Marcus Sasser isn’t particularly big. Or particularly fast. Or particularly athletic. But Kelvin Sampson and his staff saw something in this 6-foot-1 guard from a big basketball family that the Power 5 programs missed.

UH’s Final Four Future

Sasser and Tramon Mark, the super freshman who has a little James Harden creativity in his game that the blue blood programs did want, give Houston plenty to build on next season. The 20 minutes Mark logs in a Final Four game cannot do anything but help his development. At age 19, Tramon Mark’s already played in a Final Four, and hit a Jalen Suggs’ buzzer-beating, game-winning banker before Suggs, albeit on a lower stakes stage.

Sure, Scott Drew has Baylor in the championship game, with a truly dominant team, in his 18th season. But Sampson is only finishing season No. 7 on Cullen Boulevard and he already has UH in the Final Four.

“This isn’t a one trick pony,” University of Houston athletic director Chris Pezman tells PaperCity in a hallway of the Lucas Oil Stadium. “This is not it. We’re going to be here again.

“(Kelvin’s) got the right people and kids. I’m not worried about him one bit. In fact, I tell all our other coaches, figure out what he’s doing. Because he’s got it figured out.”

Pezman looks up, bumps fists with someone else in Cougars red he knows who is passing. So many familiar faces, so many important figures for the University of Houston, back together in one place. Tilman Fertitta, the early billionaire believer in Kelvin Sampson, flew in on his private jet. UH president Renu Khator, football coach Dana Holgorsen, Rusty Hardin and so many more are in the building, too.

The Cougars happened to be the third best team in the country in a year when college basketball has two legit super teams.

What a weekend, what a week really, for this city school led by people who always believed and pushed for it to be more. Since the moment the Final Four party started on Monday night, the University of Houston has been in the national headlines. Pezman tells PaperCity that the latest media study conducted by the school shows that Kelvin Sampson’s program has generated $98 million in media exposure (soft money) during this season. And that’s without the Final Four taken into account.

In many ways, this is a new day at the University of Houston. A new medical school means plenty. But so does a basketball team that creates signature moments.

This most together team has built a community around it too, especially as it kept winning in March. And there were 11 straight wins before running into this Baylor buzzsaw, with more and more people seemingly reconnecting with the program after each one.

“It’s great to see so many people here that we haven’t seen in a long time,” Pezman says. “So many people just appreciative of what this program has done to bring everybody back together.”

One Last Together Stand

Down 45-20 at halftime, with Baylor guard Davion Mitchell hitting a step back 3-pointer just before the buzzer that sounds, looks and feels like a goodnight dagger, DeJon Jarreau and Co. could have packed it in. Many teams probably would have. Kelvin Sampson’s Coogs keep fighting, desperately pushing to will themselves back in the game.

“We knew Houston wasn’t ever going to go away,” Drew says. “Too well coached. Too disciplined.”

In the end, Mitchell is too good to let UH’s fight change the game. The best player on the floor all night finishes with only 12 points, but he also racks up 11 assists, helps make Grimes (1 for 8 on 3-pointers) and Jarreau (five turnovers, one assist) miserable and controls nearly aspect of the game.

UH’s leaders could not get a win over one of college basketball’s super teams on a Final Four Saturday night, but they gave Sampson’s program so much. Houston will lose seniors DeJon Jarreau, Justin Gorham, Brison Gresham and all but assuredly junior guard Quentin Grimes, too. But their legacy will not be forgotten.

“This year we were groundbreakers,” Sampson says.

Houston v Baylor
Kelvin Sampson embraces Quentin Grimes after Houston’s loss to Baylor in the Final Four. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

This UH team left so many March memories, so many indelible, unforgettable moments. DeJon Jarreau playing through a throbbing, screaming hip injury in the second round, helping to will Houston to a win over a dangerous Rutgers team. Justin Gorham playing such a critical role in breaking down Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, attacking and passing as the man in the middle. Brison Gresham coming off the bench to play 20 huge defensive minutes against Syracuse — and getting one more giant alley-oop slam from Jarreau, his New Orleans brother since they were kids. Quentin Grimes absolutely taking over when it all appears to be slipping away, scoring 10 points in the last six minutes against Oregon State, pushing Houston into the Final Four.

“This is not it. We’re going to be here again.” — UH athletic director Chris Pezman

Everyone will be able to see this group’s legacy in the new 2021 Final Four banner that will go up in the Fertitta Center. But it may mean even more in moments. In Jarreau pulling a hurting younger teammate into a hug — and guiding him back to the locker room. DeJon Jarreau has every reason to be thinking of himself. He knows the final buzzer is his last buzzer in a Houston uniform.

Instead, he thinks of a teammate. Sees one hurting and jumps in to help. That’s every bit as big as banner in its own way. Beaten, but still brothers forever. One of Kelvin Sampson’s most together teams ever is together in the end. Still helping each other. Still leaning on one another.

Together in history. Together forever.

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