University of Houston point guard Jamal Shead knows how to get to the rim. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
University of Houston forward J'Wan Roberts, point guard Jamal Shead and shooting guard Emanuel Sharp are part of the heart and soul of Kelvin Sampson's team. Which has aims to be Sampson's best defensive team ever. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
University of Houston point guard Jamal Shead is always in control. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
UH center Ja'Vier Francis is a man of the people, mingling with the student section. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
The Fertitta Center continues to be an elite college basketball atmosphere. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Two of Houston's Wingspan Warriors — center Ja'Vier Francis and power forward J'Wan Roberts — create defensive nightmares for opponents. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
University of Houston assistant Kellen Sampson and head coach Kelvin Sampson work great together as a father son combination. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
UH forward J'Wan Roberts makes things tough for opponents on defense. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
UH sixth man Damian Dunn is becoming more and more comfortable in his role. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
University of Houston point guard Jamal Shead knows how to pick his spots. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
UH true freshman forward JoJo Tugler is already a defensive force. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Damian Dunn and Jamal Shead are keys to arguably the deepest guard rotation that Kelvin Sampson has ever had.
UH power forward J'Wan Roberts showed off his passing skills thanks to a coaching staff tweak. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
LAWRENCE, Kansas — Lysa Shead — the mom of the best leader in college basketball — admits there was a time she wanted her sons to play ball at the University of Texas. Things changed quickly though — with the fate of Jamal Shead, the University of Houston and UT basketball shifting on a dime.
“We love Houston,” Lysa Shead says, wanting to make one thing clear first. “We love Houston. I mean, back in the day when (Jamal Shead’s older brother) Jaylen was being recruited, I was hoping that they’d come here. He’d come here. But since they didn’t look at him, I didn’t want Jamal to come here. I wanted him to go to Houston.”
Jamal Shead is quick to admit that his mom chose Houston before he did. One meal with Kelvin Sampson left Lysa Shead with no doubt she’d cooked chicken spaghetti for the perfect coach for her son.
“He coaches a lot like my husband,” Lysa Shead tells PaperCity of Kelvin Sampson.
Lysa and her husband Elvin Shead started the Capital City Youth Association in Manor, the fast-growing Austin suburb, after both served in the U.S. Army. Years before Jamal Shead was even born. Elvin Shead coached Jaylen, who played college basketball at Cal Poly, Texas State and Washington State before suffering a career-ending injury, and Jamal in basketball and football. Discipline and dedication always stood out as part of the package.
Lysa Shead wanted that kind of demanding voice for Jamal in college. She certainly found it in Kelvin Sampson, UH’s 68-year-old basketball lifer of a coach who can always find something to quibble with.
Now, fresh off a win at Texas, Sampson and Jamal Shead are heading into college basketball’s version of Fenway Park, University of Kansas’ 69-year-old Allen Fieldhouse, together for a 3 pm college basketball super Saturday showdown. It is one of the games of the regular season, a chance for No. 4 Houston (19-2, 6-2 Big 12) to either make another major statement or for No. 8 Kansas (17-4, 5-3 Big 12) to prove that it’s still very much the big dog in the best basketball conference in the land. No one wins at Kansas. Kelvin Sampson never did in 12 years as the University of Oklahoma’s coach and the Jayhawks are 11-0 at home this season.
Those are the kind of daunting numbers that just may excite a stubborn duo like Kelvin Sampson and Jamal Shead.
“I’ve always thought that if you have back-to-back road games, the goal is to split,” Sampson says. “So thank God we won Monday against Texas. So we have a split. So now for us, it’s ‘Let’s go see what we can do.’ ”
Sampson is speaking practically, but there is more than a little hint of a bold undertone. This particular Houston team seems to love big moment games, to thrive when the spotlight is turned up to brighter than bright. From winning at Xavier with the Musketeers’ student section going mad to beating Texas A&M at the Toyota Center in what often felt like an NCAA Tournament game to turning back BYU on the road to toppling Texas in overtime at the Longhorns’ $375 million home, these Cougars keep rising to the occasion.
“He coaches a lot like my husband.” — Lysa Shead on Kelvin Sampson.
Shead will tell you that he holds no grudge over the University of Texas not recruiting him. He points out that Texas only had one available scholarship that year, notes how the Longhorns were stacked at guard back then, admits some wondered if he even was a Division I player. Of course that didn’t stop Kelvin Sampson from recruiting him. Sampson describes what his program does in talent acquisition as more “evaluating” than recruiting and that certainly applies to Shead, who arrived as a three star or borderline four star recruit (depending on the rankings) and will leave as arguably the best point guard in all of college basketball. Sampson and his staff saw somehow in the competitive Shead that the Longhorns, and many other programs, completely missed.
Of course that also didn’t stop Shead from dropping 25 points on the school he grew up in the shadow of when the chance finally came. It didn’t stop him from hitting big shot after big shot, refusing to lose to the old hometown team his mom used to like.
“Texas is a really good school,” Shead says. “A school I grew up around. But Houston’s home.”
Now Shead and Sampson head into another college basketball madhouse together. A historic one. Hunter Dickinson, Kansas’ 7-foot-2 center, is the favorite to win the Big 12 Player of the Year Award. Jamal Shead just may be his closest challenger. What happens in this Saturday showdown will say a lot. Like usual, Kelvin Sampson and Jamal Shead will be in the fight together.
Just how Lysa Shead wanted it. Sometimes mom truly knows best.
“Don’t get caught up in analytics,” Sampson says. “If you’re the best player on one of the top teams, that’s where you get your attention from.”
Jamal Shead and Houston are getting more and more attention these days. But that’s never what it’s been about for this coach and this point guard, college basketball’s perfect pair.