As you walk around the campus these days, you realize it’s a good time to be part of the University of Houston. From the Bauer College of Business to the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design to the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, a palpable sense of excitement is growing at UH.
Those positive feelings are no more prevalent than within the Athletics Department and the Men’s Basketball program. After recently completing his second season with the Cougars, Head Coach Kelvin Sampson has the Cougars poised for great things in the future.
Just look at the progress the Cougars have made during Sampson’s brief tenure. Arriving in April 2014, Sampson immediately went to work building a staff, assembling a schedule and recruiting student-athletes to compete in time for the 2014-15 season.
Despite those challenges, Sampson held his first Houston team together. While the team’s 13-19 record was disappointing, the Cougars finished the season as one of the hottest teams in the American Athletic Conference, winning four of their last five games, including a 66-60 upset over No. 7 seeded Tulane in the American Athletic Conference Championship First Round.
Fast forward to the 2015-16 season. Armed with a more veteran group, Sampson led the Cougars to a 22-10 record and the No. 2 seed at the American Championship. The team also earned an invitation to the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) for the first time in a decade.
Excitement around the program continued to grow throughout the season. In mid-December, nearly 8,000 fans poured into Hofheinz Pavilion to watch the Cougars take a 105-98 win in overtime over Southeastern Conference foe LSU and potential NBA Draft No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons. The attendance of 7,819 fans marked the largest home crowd to watch the Cougars play since Jan. 30, 2008.
Fewer than two months later, the Cougars claimed a 71-68 win over No. 12 SMU inside Hofheinz Pavilion. In front of more than 6,100 fans, Houston enjoyed the win over its highest-ranked opponent since Jan. 6, 1996.
“We had a successful season. We laid more foundation. We were one of only two teams to beat every team in the league. It didn’t end the way we wanted to, but not many teams end the season with a win,” Sampson said. “We went from 13 wins to 22 wins. Our challenge going into summer and the fall is to put ourselves where we can take another jump.”
While the Cougars said goodbye to four seniors, Sampson and his staff return eight lettermen and three starters. Guards Damyean Dotson and Rob Gray Jr. and point guard Galen Robinson Jr. will be key leaders for the program during the 2016-17 campaign.
Joining the team in summer 2015, Dotson wasted little time in impressing both his new teammates and coaches and was elected as one of two team captains in a vote of his peers. Gray is an explosive scorer who totaled a career-high 31 points in wins at East Carolina and against LSU, while Robinson should be a fixture at point guard in the years to come.
Senior center Kyle Meyer and senior forward and perennial fan favorite Danrad “Chicken” Knowles will be looked upon to anchor the Cougars’ frontcourt this season.
In addition to the veterans, Sampson and the Cougars welcome four newcomers. Junior forward Devin Davis competed at Indiana for his first two collegiate seasons before transferring to Odessa Junior College. He will be joined by junior Valentine Sangoyomi (Northern Oklahoma JC) and junior guard Morris Dunnigan (Blinn JC) out of the junior college ranks with freshman guard Armoni Brooks (McNeil High School/Round Rock, Texas) playing as a freshman.
Although the Cougars’ 2016-17 schedule had not been announced as of press time, Houston knows its conference opponents for the upcoming season. The Cougars will face Cincinnati, East Carolina, Memphis, SMU, Tulane, Tulsa, UConn and USF in home and away games, with Temple coming to the Coogs’ house and a road game at USF.
The Cougars also will compete at the Gulf Coast Showcase on Nov. 21-23 at Germain Arena in Estero, Florida, opening that tournament against George Mason.
The Cougars’ complete schedule with game dates, times and TV will be posted on uhcougars.com.
Guy V. Lewis Development Facility
However, the excitement around the Men’s Basketball program isn’t limited to the court and competition. Take a stroll down Cullen Boulevard on the Houston campus, and it’s easy to see reasons for the off-the-court optimism.
In April, the $25 million Guy V. Lewis Development Facility was officially dedicated with UH alum and CBS Sports broadcasting legend Jim Nantz serving as emcee.
The state-of-the-art facility is located at the intersection of Cullen Boulevard and Holman Street, adjacent to the basketball arena, and provides the environment in all areas that both the Houston Men’s and Women’s Basketball programs need to be successful throughout the season.
“We are so proud of this place. I can’t thank the UH System Board of Regents, (President) Renu Khator, (Vice President for Athletics) Hunter Yurachek, (former Vice President for Athletics) Mack Rhoades and everyone who helped make his facility a reality,” Sampson said.
The first level houses a dedicated practice court for each team as well as shared sports performance and sports medicine areas.
The second level features the teams’ areas, which include locker rooms, team rooms and academic/film theaters. The team rooms contain spacious, modern lockers, multiple video screens for television and comfortable furniture. The third level holds office space for both Men’s and Women’s Basketball coaching and support staffs.
Basketball Arena Renovations
With the completion of the Guy V. Lewis Development Facility, attention will turn to the basketball arena. In November, the Board of Regents approved a $60 million budget for renovations to that facility, thanks to an anonymous donor who has pledged $20 million.
Design work began in March with the plans to start construction one year later. Plans for the Cougars’ home facility during the 2017-18 season have not been finalized and will be announced at a later date. The renovated facility is expected to be ready for game competition during the 2018-19 season.
Initial plans call for the court level to be raised three feet with fan seating moved closer to the court as part of an emphasis to improve the overall fan experience.
More than 2,000 premium seats will be developed to give fans the ultimate luxury seating options. That total includes a preliminary design of 1,750 club seats, 20 loge boxes with four seats in each, two open-air suites with 32 seats per unit and 90 courtside seats.
The arena’s concourse level will be expanded to improve circulation with significant upgrades to the sound system, video board and arena seating.
On the court and off the court—in the classroom and in the community—there has never been a better time to be a Cougar.