Culture / Sporting Life

UH’s Pipeline of Success — Quentin Grimes’ Jump to the NBA Will Help Kelvin Sampson’s Program

Asking the Star Guard to Stay One More Year Misses the Point — and the Player-First Love in Kelvin Sampson's Houston Program

BY // 04.08.21

It is a night worthy of champions, which is what these players on the 2020-21 University of Houston basketball team forever are. Midwest Regional champs, American Athletic Conference tournament champs, Final Four banner raisers. It is a night Kelvin Sampson shows why he’s one of the elite storytellers in college basketball as well as one of the elite coaches. When Sampson takes the mic at the university’s Final Four tribute event, he finds a way to mention every single person associated with his program, adding a personal touch to every call out.

From the first time (of many) he challenged DeJon Jarreau to a loving riff on sports information director Jeff Conrad’s jeans.

A message that Jim Nantz took the time to tape before calling the Baylor-Gonzaga national championship game is played. Nantz calls the Final Four run “one of the most spectacular and important achievements in the history of Houston athletics.”

Tilman Fertitta — the early billionaire backer of Sampson’s vision — makes sure he’s sitting there, lending his support, fist bumping every player and video coordinator he can. “Kelvin you had the vision,” Fertitta says. “A few years ago, you said, I need to have that damn practice facility or I’m not recruiting anybody.”

Fertitta laughs. Sampson got his facility and the rest is happy history. After Fertitta’s remarks, he will be whisked out of the UH arena that bears his name, with a police officer in front of him and a member of his security detail behind him. Fertitta is being rushed to the Toyota Center where his Rockets are playing the Dallas Mavericks on this Wednesday night, proving that his tycoon’s dedication to the franchise has not been impacted by the club’s current status as one of the NBA’s worst teams.

Still, the most telling moment of this Final Four tribute night comes when junior guard Quentin Grimes is introduced to speak and the crowd starts chanting, “One more year! One more year!”

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It’s a sweet, if completely misguided reaction. Quentin Grimes is not coming back to play another season of college basketball. Nor should he. Grimes, who emerged as a bonafide seize-the-moment closer this season, is going to get drafted by an NBA team. If a team or two gets really smart, he will be drafted before the end of the first round.

“We expect him to be in the NBA next season,” Kelvin Sampson says. “We want him to get drafted.”

Quentin Grimes’ NBA Future Means Plenty to UH

What the fans chanting “One more year!” are missing is that Quentin Grimes going to the NBA would be a major win for the program. One that can be impactful for future success just like the Final Four run. Every big-time recruit — and Grimes certainly qualified as a major recruit coming out of The Woodlands and in the transfer portal once he decided to leave Kansas — goes to college with the goal of turning themselves into an NBA player.

That means as much — and sometimes almost more — to good players than even Final Four runs. A college basketball program with an established track record of producing pro players carries a huge edge. And Kelvin Sampson is building that type of program too at the University of Houston.

Sampson’s UH program currently has three players in the NBA — Nate Hinton with the Dallas Mavericks, Armoni Brooks with the Rockets and Damyean Dotson with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Adding Quentin Grimes to that list would be a significant win. Especially as a drafted player. Establishing a pipeline of pro success brings added legitimacy to a college basketball program. One that is instantly noticed by recruits and their parents.

Oregon State vs Houston
Quentin Grimes (No. 24), Justin Gorham (No. 4) and the rest of the Houston players grabbed every bit of this Final Four moment. (Photo by Brett Wilhelm/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

Asking Quentin Grimes to stay one more year so UH could have a better chance of winning more games misses the point. Young people go to college to get a job. And Grimes is ready for his pro job opportunity.

Kelvin Sampson is certainly not going to plead with him to stay for another season. Instead, he’ll do whatever he can to help any of his guys reach their dreams. Even the ones who he might think are leaving too early and making a mistake. A category Quentin Grimes definitely does not fall into.

“Some more than others,” Sampson says when I ask how involved he gets in his players transitioning to a professional basketball world. “I just make sure they’re picking the right. . . I don’t choose their representation. In this day and age, a couple of them want me involved with interviewing agents. I’ll set it up. And I’ll sit in on them, making sure they’re asking the right questions.

“I stay involved.”

Rob Gray — the explosive guard who led Houston to its first NCAA Tournament win since 1984 in Kelvin Sampson’s fourth season — just signed what the coach calls “a huge contact” with AS Monaco in the French league. Sampson is proud of that. For good reason.

Final Fours are great, but seeing the players he and his elite coaching staff helped develop is a different level of satisfaction. What your players do after they leave your program matters. And Sampson keeps in regular contact with many of his former players.

“Once you’re part of our family, that’s what we have,” Sampson says. “We don’t have individual teams. Everyone’s part of our family.

“They feel comfortable calling and letting us know how they’re doing. I’ve had some calls. Guys getting married. Guys having babies. Guys buying houses. Guys getting a new car.”

Sampson laughs. “They send me pictures of a lot of things,” the coach continues. “No telling what I’m getting.”

Sampson will no doubt be getting plenty from DeJon Jarreau, the all-heart point guard who he built a special relationship with, in the future. Jarreau, rebounding wizard Justin Gorham and big man Brison Gresham could all have a chance to build careers in professional basketball, too. To sign nice contracts of their own, maybe overseas. If that’s what they want to do.

DeJon Jarreau enjoyed every bit of the University of Houston’s Final Four tribute night. (@UHCougarMBK)

This special University of Houston team’s legacy will live on in all kinds of different ways. Kelvin Sampson will help its foundational pieces out in any way he can. He certainly would never try to hold a player like Quentin Grimes back.

The bond is much deeper than that. It never centered around what Quentin Grimes could do for the University of Houston. Those chanting “One more year!” are missing that. Which is OK. That’s how fans are. Basketball lifers who harbor the respect that Kelvin Sampson does know better.

Asking Quentin Grimes to stay one more year so UH could have a better chance of winning more games misses the point. Young people go to college to get a job. And Grimes is ready for his pro job opportunity.

Sampson cares about his players’ futures. You can see it every day. That’s why all those former players call and text.

“Guys from every team. Montana Tech, Washington State, Oklahoma, Indiana — guys from every team,” Sampson says. “My phone stays busy. I’m very proud of that. I’m proud of the relationships I have with all our former players.”

One More Year! That is not Kelvin Sampson’s thing. Try just rewards instead. Quentin Grimes should get drafted, build the pipeline, grow the family.

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