Culture / Sporting Life

Brothers In Chill — Tramon Mark and Jarace Walker’s Relaxed Vibe Lifts No. 1 Seed Houston When the NCAA Tournament Pressure Heats Up

Two NBA Level Talents Who Think the Game Should be Fun Help Create the Uncommon Brotherhood of This 33 Win Team

BY // 03.20.23

For Tramon Mark and Jarace Walker, it’s a shared chill. The two players most responsible for the University of Houston roaring back to beat Auburn and advancing to the Sweet 16 in Kansas City, quickly became buddies almost as soon as Walker arrived on campus for his red carpet UH visit.

“I feel like we’re both kind of laid back,” Walker tells PaperCity. “Just more chill and relaxed. We kind of clicked because we kind of give off the same vibes. That’s my dog. We’re real close. We hang out. We chill.”

These Brothers in Chill took over when this No. 1 seed Houston team needed it most. With Kelvin Sampson’s team down 10 points at halftime. With UH’s best player (All-American guard Marcus Sasser) and its most valuable player (point guard Jamal Shead) both hurting and mired in foul trouble, Mark puts up 26 points, 20 in UH’s dominant second half when he makes Auburn’s guards feel like they are caught in an industrial dryer.

Just getting blasted and pummeled as they’re bounced round and round.

Jarace Walker, the 19-year-old built like a tank that maneuvers like a Porsche, is just as terrifying to the Tigers. He blocks six shots (one less than Hakeem Olajuwon in the 1983 national championship game and two less than The Dream’s UH NCAA Tournament record), grabs a game-high 10 rebounds (Mark has nine of his own), adds two assists and seven points. The 6-foot-8, 240-pound Walker seems to come out of nowhere on some of those swat aways, leaving Auburn’s guards looking over their shoulders on drives, almost seeing ghosts.

Or at least a basketball unicorn.

“His IQ of the game is something else,” Mark says of Walker. “Being how young he is. Being 6-8, 240 and being able to still move the way he can. He can be a monster. He can intimidate some guys.”

But not Mark. UH’s junior wing guard — a 6-foot-5 NBA level prospect talent who has some James Harden in his patient game — immediately started joking around with that new recruit, everybody’s McDonald’s All-American. Now, they’re fast friends who keep each other loose.

“I stay in his head a lot,” Mark tells PaperCity. “We just mess around with each other and we know when to lock in. It’s a good feeling knowing he’s comfortable with me and I’m comfortable with him. We know when to take things seriously.”

On Senior Night at the Fertitta Center, the University of Houston Cougars men’s basketball team cut down the nets after defeating Wichita State 83-66 behind Marcus Sasser’s 24 points and Jamal Shead’s 25 points
UH super freshman Jarace Walker will be an NBA Lottery Pick this June. But first he’s winning big at Houston. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

And when to cut loose. In the pressure of a one loss and you’re done event like the NCAA Tournament, especially for a No. 1 seed that’s had to hear about the prospect of playing in a Houston hometown Final Four all year (mostly from general interest news reporters with little understanding of college basketball’s realities), a little levity can go a long way. You can’t always be on edge. Even with a game with fifth seed Miami (6:15 pm Friday on CBS with Jim Nantz back on the call) looming with an Elite Eight berth on the line.

“For sure, just let loose a little bit,” Walker says. “You can’t always be serious all day. There’s definitely time to joke around and play. At the same time, we both know when to lock in and take something serious.”

Like being down 10 points to Auburn in a defacto NCAA Tournament road game. The Chill Brothers will lead the way back into a dominant second half of intensity. It’s 50-23 Houston over those final 20 minutes, with Tramon Mark and Jarace Walker contributing 25 of those 50 points, leaving Auburn coach Bruce Pearl lamenting, “I kinda wish it was a 20 minute game instead of a 40 minute game.”

It is one of the more dramatic complete reversals you’ll see in an NCAA Tournament game, where those 20 minute halves can sometimes seem to fly by and quickly get away from teams. It has UH fans riding a Demon Drop ride of emotions.

“You just hope they can find themselves in the second half,” Karen Sampson, the wife of Kelvin Sampson, tells PaperCity of what it’s like watching.

Thanks in no small part to Tramon Mark and Jarace Walker, this 33-3 team does create a way.

“He’s a big-time player,” Walker says of Mark.

Jarace Walker seems to come out of nowhere on some of those swat aways, leaving Auburn’s guards looking over their shoulders on drives, almost seeing ghosts.

Tramon Mark and Jarace Walker Find an Easy Bond

Now, The Brothers in Chill are in the Sweet 16, looking for more. While keeping the joking, the good times and the relaxed off court vibes going. With Jarace Walker a lock to be a lottery pick in this June’s NBA Draft, this Houston NCAA Tournament run likely will be the last time that Walker and Mark get to play basketball together in an ultra competitive environment. Unless they somehow end up on the same NBA team one day.

Mark and Walker want to make the most of this time – and try to make sure it lasts for four more games.

“Jarace loves Tramon,” Kelvin Sampson says. “He really loves Tramon.”

“His IQ of the game is something else. Being how young he is. Being 6-8, 240 and being able to still move the way he can. He can be a monster.” — UH guard Tramon Mark on Jarace Walker

While very different in personality from the chill duo, UH point guard Jamal Shead is in many ways the third member of this group. Shead and Mark have been roommates since they were freshmen and Walker often follows Shead and Mark everywhere.

“We basically take care of each other,” Mark says of Shead. “For real. We’re roommates, but we basically take care of each other. Whenever he goes to the store, he’ll call me and ask me what snacks I want. It’s just little stuff like that.

“We have a great bond with each other like that.”

You don’t win 33 games without getting along. But for Tramon Mark and Jarace Walker, it goes deeper than that. They’re living their hoop dreams, keeping each other chill all the way.

This is how you take over games without stressing. This is how you create a brother-like bond for life.

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