Culture / Sporting Life

Mini Samps — DeJon Jarreau Turning Into Kelvin Sampson’s Coach on the Floor is One of College Basketball’s All-Time Growth Stories

UH's Once Wild Point Guard Has Houston Suddenly Scoring at a Near Gonzaga Level

BY // 03.01.21

Even when DeJon Jarreau drove you crazy, he could make you smile. OK, maybe it took Kelvin Sampson a little while to transition from the madness to the smile sometimes, but he always got there. It’s impossible to stay mad at DeJon Jarreau. Before he grew into the point guard Sampson demanded, Jarreau always showed his giant heart.

Now that giving heart — and a hard-earned basketball control — is driving one of the most unselfish teams in America, one that seems to be reaching a new level just in time for March. This now 20-3 University of Houston team has won its last three games by a combined 108 points, the latest blowout being Sunday’s 98-52 dismantling of USF.

Sampson’s best UH team is playing like it does not matter who scores, who gets the credit or who shines on the highlights because that’s how DeJon Jarreau has been playing all season.

“We don’t have one jealous soul on the whole team,” junior guard Quentin Grimes says. “We just want to see everybody succeed and that makes it kind of even better, celebrating with your teammates.”

That starts with DeJon Jarreau. The guy who sometimes used to show all the self control of the Tasmanian Devil as he raced up the floor is now almost a Mini Coach Sampson — or Coach Samps as Jarreau and many of the other Cougars (at least the bold ones) have taken to calling UH’s program resurrector — on the floor.

If that transformation does not make you believe in the magic of sports, nothing will. Yes, DeJon Jarreau is Kelvin Sampson’s chosen coach on the court.

“DeJon and are so much on the same page now,” Sampson says. “Usually, I’m the offensive coordinator. But Galen (Robinson Jr.’s) senior year, Galen was the offensive coordinator. He ran the offense. He pushed it. Now in timeouts, I’d run what I wanted to run. But Galen knew exactly what to do. And DeJon’s the same way.

“DeJon’s our offensive coordinator. He has a good feel for what to run and who to run it for.”

Heck Jarreau ,who arrived at UH as a bigger than big personality, now even often almost sounds like Kelvin Sampson in his own postgame interviews.

Just call him Mini Samps. Of course, this Mini Samps has the type of hops and athletic ability that — combined with his hard-earned Kelvin Sampson basketball education — should allow Jarreau to make a good living playing basketball somewhere for years. Jarreau is just as dazzling in the open court as he was as a sophomore who only played at one speed — breakneck. His one-handed, breakaway slams are still some of the most singularly entertaining plays the COVID reduced capacity Fertitta Center crowds ever see.

Only now, Jarreau’s talents are complemented by a controlled court sense that allows him to seize a game in all sorts of ways.

On this Sunday, Jarreau racks up an offensive rebound, a dunk assist, a steal and a slam before USF can catch its first breath. The game is only 61 seconds old — and Jarreau’s impact is already  all over it.

The Cougars get direct assists on eight of their first 11 baskets — and finish the wipeout of USF with a season-high 27 assists. Passing like this is contagious and Jarreau (six assists), Marcus Sasser (seven assists), Tramon Mark (four assists), reserve guard Jamal Shead (four assists) and even starting big Reggie Chaney (two assists) all get in on the sharing party.

I have a 7-year-old who would tell you that sharing is caring. In Kelvin Sampson’s program, it’s also a prerequisite to getting on the floor.

“If you seem to not be a great teammate, not a selfless guy, Coach Samps just kind of nip that in the bud quick,” Jarreau says. “So you have to be a team player to even play on this team.”

This is a team that seems more and more built for March Madness. Since losing at Wichita State in a game in which their offense bogged down, the Cougars have pushed the pace and put up 90, 81 and 98 points in the last three games. Those are near Gonzaga worthy numbers, validation of a team that’s driven to accomplish big things.

One that has been building up for this time of year ever since last year’s NCAA Tournament got COVID canceled.

“We’ve been talking about March,” Jarreau says. “How important it is. Talking about seeding — winning and losing how important that is for a seed. For brackets and stuff like that. We know how important it is.”

UH Rolls into March

This is a dominant team having fun, feeling itself, flexing its power with a self assured ease. Any doubts about whether this UH team deserves a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament should be banished. Kelvin Sampson’s Cougars (20-3) are not Gonzaga good, but they belong right up there with any other top team in America. Any team that’s not going to be the No. 1 overall seed in the entire tournament.

Undefeated Gonzaga may be college basketball’s latest super team, packed with ridiculous talent. Gonzaga’s scored 85 more points in 21 of its 24 games. UH has done that five times.

Houston is not quite a super team, but it can be pretty special at anywhere near its best. Just ask USF coach Brian Gregory, who must feel like a skier caught in an avalanche. There is just nothing he can do, no way he can stop, or even slow, UH’s relentless onslaught.

The Bulls are getting buried no matter what.

University of Houston Tramon Mark
Tramon Mark is becoming a more confident shooter for Houston. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

It is 41-16 Houston almost before the USF players fully realize what is happening. This is Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown stuff. It’s the equivalent of an Obama vs. Kanye political debate. There is no way that Gregory’s Bulls are leaving the Fertitta Center anything but humbled and humiliated.

Five minutes into the second half, UH is up 40 points (69-29). If only the bright neon green sneakers most of the Bulls wear could have been ruby red slippers — so they could click their heels and disappear. Talk about wanting to get away.

Grimes scores 22 points in 13 first half minutes — and does not need to do anything else. The should be American Athletic Conference Player of the Year could have tried to pad his stats in the second half. He could have made winning that award a little easier. But Grimes does not seem very interested in that.

He knows letting his teammates have their own moments will pay off down the tournament road, when college basketball players and programs’ reputations are truly made shining. Grimes only takes three shots in seven second half minutes. This is a version of unselfishness too. Just as powerful as Tramon Mark, the uber talented freshman who’s turned into UH’s super sixth man, giving up an easy layup to pass the ball to Fabian White Jr. (10 points) for a dunk instead.

“If you seem to not be a great teammate, not a selfless guy, Coach Samps just kind of nip that in the bud quick. So you have to be a team player to even play on this team.” — UH point guard DeJon Jarreau

“I think what makes this team unselfish is our seniors are unselfish,” Chaney says when I ask about the ball movement. “The leaders we’ve got. They’re unselfish so that causes everyone else to be unselfish. And yeah, it’s definitely contagious because when everybody’s moving the ball, you just want the best shot possible.”

It starts with DeJon Jarreau, who triggered some mid-game Kelvin Sampson migraines early in his career, pushing to make the spectacular play time and time again, and now carries one of the most demanding coaches in America’s ultimate trust. Sampson does not feel the need to shout out plays to Jarreau endlessly.

Not anymore. He knows DeJon is going to make the right decision. Get the ball to the right shooter. It’s what he does. It’s almost like he’s a Mini Samps on the floor.

A Different DeJon Jarreau

Jarreau flirted with the idea of declaring early for the NBA Draft last season, putting his name in without signing with an agent. When he did not get the glowing evaluation that every player wants, he came back to UH and the coach who never just told him what he wanted to hear. But Jarreau did not come back determined to prove something by forcing things.

It is 41-16 Houston almost before the USF players fully realize what is happening. This is Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown stuff. It’s the equivalent of an Obama vs. Kanye political debate.

Instead, he’s proved much more by making it all about the team. All about doing what he could to ensure UH could have a special season.

“He and Quentin are the reasons kids come back to college,” Sampson says. “They knew they would get better if they came back here. They knew they were going to be coached. They were going to be held accountable. And they were going to be taught to play the right way.

“Both of them are tremendous students of the game of basketball. They love basketball. Confidence. . . teaching confidence is just as important as teaching defense. Or teaching a play. Or teaching rebounding. Believing in yourself and knowing that there is belief coming back the other way. Unfettered. No questions asked.”

Kelvin Sampson does not want DeJon Jarreau peeking over at the sidelines to see his reaction to a play. Not anymore. Not when Jarreau is running the offense like this.

Mini Samps can just do his thing — and  bring an entire team along, right back into March.

Dejon Jarreau, Kelvin Sampson UH
DeJon Jarreau and Kelvin Sampson share a moment during last season. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

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