Culture / Sporting Life

Kansas’ Big Regret — Quentin Grimes Creates His Own Houston Fairytale With Kelvin Sampson’s Guard Giving Freedom and Quannas White’s Constant Belief

Grimes Has Grown Into One of the Best Players in America — and He Has An Army of Help on This UH Team

BY // 02.26.21

It’s easy to be labeled a disappointment at a basketball program like Kansas. Or to at least to hear the not-so-quiet whispers of such things from a fervent fan base that far exceeds even many NBA teams’ backers in terms of intensity. Even if almost all objective measures would say Quentin Grimes put together a fairly good freshman season for the Jayhawks, he still heard the whispers.

At Kansas, where one and done stars are a regular feature of Bill Self’s program, instant domination is almost expected of five star recruits. It turns out Quentin Grimes just needed a little more time.

“I think people kind of expected me to have this impact right away at Kansas,” Grimes says. “Wild expectations coming out of high school. But I kind of just feel like (it’s about) staying true to the game, trusting the process, trusting the plan the coaches have for you. And  just always staying in the gym.

“That’s just the biggest thing for me. I want to get better — watching tape with (assistant) Coach Q(uannas White).”

Now, Quentin Grimes is clearly one of best guards in the country for a University of Houston team that deserves all its lofty rankings and Final Four buzz. He is reflecting back on Kansas after pouring in a career-high 33 points in Houston’s 81-57 destruction of good Western Kentucky team that could very well give a traditional power program or two trouble in March. The Jayhawks come up because I ask about his journey and whether he ever lost confidence he had games like this in him.

Now, Kansas and hundreds of other college basketball programs would love to have this Houston version of Quentin Grimes in their program. Grimes, who became a high school star in The Woodlands, has found a home and a coach who always pushes him while giving him the freedom to be his best self on the court.

“It’s funny, it’s nothing he did talent wise,” UH coach Kelvin Sampson says when I ask when he knew Grimes could be the next star Houston guard, a line that includes Damyean Dotson, Rob Gray, Corey Davis Jr. and more. “It was how he handled the coaching that we do here. How he handled me.

“Where some kids might pout or cop a momentary lapse in their attitude, Quentin embraced it. He’s used the way we do things here to help him. And I think that’s why he’s playing so good.”

Grimes is playing like he can get any shot he wants on a basketball court. He’s playing opposing defenses like a pool hustler setting up a mark, like a NASCAR driver who knows just the perfect time to use another car’s draft. He hits 11 of his 21 shots against Western Kentucky, including 8 of 16 3-pointers. He owns every piece of the Fertitta Center floor he wants to get to, never seems to get beat to the spot where he wants to be.

Western Kentucky has some good quick guards — and they never have a chance of sticking with Quentin Grimes. At times, it’s like watching a masters class. Which is fitting. Because Quentin Grimes is earning his masters in basketball at UH (along with his regular college studies).

He’s doing it while enjoying that Sampson freedom. Yes, freedom. While many equate the University of Houston’s basketball coach with a taskmaster or drill sergeant, caught up in his often screaming visages on the sidelines, Kelvin Sampson has always given his best guards plenty of latitude to create.

No less a creator than James Harden told Grimes as much back when the former five star recruit was considering which school to transfer to after Kansas. Harden, who knows Sampson from the basketball lifer’s stint as a Rockets assistant, told Grimes that Kelvin Sampson believed in letting good guards cook.

“I love giving good players freedom,” Sampson says. “I always have. Rob Gray. Corey (Davis Jr.). Armoni (Brooks). All the way back. Hollis Price (at Oklahoma). Eric Gordon (at Indiana). I’ve had a lot of really good players. And the thing I tell my best players is I’m going to hold you accountable for these things, but the flip side is I am not going to over coach you.

“You see the confidence just oozing out of Quentin’s ears. Because, I just let him rock.”

Which usually gets this now 19-3 Houston team rolling. Still, on this Thursday night, even with Grimes pouring in 21 points in the first half, the Cougars only lead Western Kentucky by a single point. It will take the other near constants in Houston’s often dominant season to turn this tough non-conference matchup into a blowout.

It will take the super energy of DeJon Jarreau, one of the most unselfish senior point guards in America.

DeJon Jarreau’s Quiet Takeover

As is usually the case this season, Jarreau’s final boxscore numbers against Western Kentucky do not overwhelm — nine points, five steals, four assists, four rebounds. These are not the kind of numbers that get you on SportsCenter. But when UH takes over this game and blows the Hilltoppers off the floor, Houston’s human slinky of a 6-foot-5 point guard is everywhere.

University of Houston DeJon Jarreau
DeJon Jarreau stats are often not flashy, but he’s the driving force behind Houston’s unselfish success. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

In one incredible sequence, Jarreau steals the ball from Western Kentucky’s future NBA big man Charles Bassey, finds Marcus Sasser for a wide open three on the break off the steal and then somehow gets inside to grab the offensive rebound when Sasser misses. If you love winning basketball, that’s an all-time highlight reel.

Jarreau just never stops moving. Never stops hustling. Never stops pushing his team to new heights.

I’m still not sure quite what a Hilltopper is, but you can bet the bizarre creature will be seeing DeJon Jarreau in its nightmares just as much as Quentin Grimes.

“He’s by far our most indispensable player,” Sampson says of Jarreau. “We’ve had three guys make eight or nine threes in a game. . . but when DeJon gets the ball out on the break, he makes all those guys better. Now, his stats don’t look great. The first question I got asked about tonight was about Quentin. . .

“But DeJon Jarreau — we’re not going very far without him. He is critical to this team’s success.”

So is a coaching staff that excels in adjustments — and hard work. The first thing Kelvin Sampson hears when he walks into the gym at around 12:30 pm before this 6 pm game is the sound of his son Kellen’s voice, shouting out instructions with the urgency of a man rushing to catch a subway. Kellen Sampson is going over the Monster Defense the UH coaches put in to deal with Bassey, a 6-foot-11 terror, with the Cougar big men. Again.

UH’s Monster D and Charles Bassey, an NBA Player to Be

Houston’s Monster Scheme turns a beast, one of the more talented big men in the college game today, into something of a puppy. Often putting a forward in front and another behind Bassey, with guards like Jarreau poking their hands in whenever they can, it takes Western Kentucky nearly 12 minutes to get its most important player his first shot of the game.

I’m still not sure quite what a Hilltopper is, but you can bet the bizarre creature will be seeing DeJon Jarreau in its nightmares just as much as Quentin Grimes.

Bassey will finish with nine points and seven rebounds in 35 minutes. He shows his talent on a few monster dunks, but Houston’s defensive scheme never lets Bassey come close to inflicting any real horror. Reggie Chaney, Brison Gresham, Justin Gorham and Fabian White Jr. all frustrate him at times.

“When he gets the ball, make him uncomfortable,” Gorham says of UH’s Monster Scheme. “And that’s what we did. It started with Reggie, then Bris came in — and even Fab. Not match his intensity, but just brought the intensity to him. And we just shut him down.”

University of Houston Charles Bassey
NBA prospect Charles Bassey found himself hounded by Houston’s interior defense. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Quentin Grimes almost never shuts down his practice routine. To that end, Grimes has found a kindred spirit in UH assistant coach Quannas White.

“Coach Q is with me every day,” Grimes says. “That’s one person you’ve got to give the most credit to. Coach Q. We shoot before practice every day. After practice every day. Even on off days, we still shoot.

“Coach Q is a big reason why I’m having this much success. And I wouldn’t be here without him. Just the life lessons, the life talks, we have every once in a while. Coach Q has been like almost a father figure to me.”

“The thing I tell my best players is I’m going to hold you accountable for these things, but the flip side is I am not going to over coach you. You see the confidence just oozing out of Quentin’s ears. Because, I just let him rock.’ — UH Coach Kelvin Sampson

Quentin Grimes never deserved to be considered anyone’s disappointment. Kansas fans aren’t really rationale. That’s part of what comes with rooting for one of college basketball’s most storied programs. All perspective can be lost.

Grimes found a new one at the University of Houston. With a head coach who gets on him for having zero rebounds at halftime even if he has 21 points already, and still gives him the freedom to create. With an assistant coach who never stopped believing in everything he could be.

Quentin Grimes is rocking now. Go ahead and try to stop him. If you can.

University of Houston Quentin Grimes
UH’s Quentin Grimes is one of the top guards in America. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

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