HOUSTON — It turned into April 2014 while Kelvin Sampson is regularly occurring the task that had gobbled numerous coaches earlier than him.
The depths to which the University of Houston Cougars basketball application had fallen from its glory days within the mid-Nineteen Eighties, the Phi Slama Jama technology, had been nicely-chronicled. Sampson idea he knew what he changed into getting into. Then he walked into Hofheinz Pavilion for the primary time.
As he seemed around the Cougars’ 45-yr-vintage basketball facility and saw the tiny locker room, the old seats and the low lighting fixtures that made the place resemble a dungeon, the issue of the task earlier than him have become apparent.
“That’s once I realized no person cared approximately basketball,” Sampson said. “I could not trust how bad it turned into.
“Just the services, the concession stands, the lavatories. … We were in 2014. You walk around this location and suppose you are in the Eighties.”
Not coincidentally, it becomes in the Nineteen Eighties while Houston basketball had closing been relevant.
Now armed with sparkling new facilities and a tested, veteran teachers in Sampson, No. 8 Houston (27-1) is having its excellent season on account that Texas’ Tallest Fraternity took college basketball via typhoon. The storied application, which bottomed out on the turn of the century, is lower back within the countrywide dialogue after more than one a long time of irrelevance.
The Cougars, who host College GameDay on Saturday in advance in their American Athletic Conference conflict with UCF (four p.M. ET, ESPN), are within the top 10 for the primary time considering the fact that 1984 and feature a sensible shot at attaining a place they have not been due to the fact that Hakeem Olajuwon changed into on campus: the Final Four.
Houston’s basketball history is properly-documented. Guy V. Lewis. Five Final Fours. The Game of the Century. Phi Slama Jama.
The latter era changed into impactful sufficient to turn out to be subject matter for two 30 for 30 documentaries and is often the first subject matter of communique when a person brings up Cougars hoops, regionally and nationally.
“I had a guy ask me five minutes ago approximately the NC State sport,” former Houston defend Reid Gettys stated Wednesday, referring to the 1983 countrywide championship sport. “And I advised him that no one had requested me about it in view that yesterday.”
Houston, but, turned into unable to turn its moment inside the mid-’80s sun into prolonged countrywide cachet. Instead, the program began declining.
After the 1985-86 season, Lewis’ 30th, he retired. Though no one knew it on time, Houston might war for the subsequent 30 years to fill the gaping hole he left.
“It turned into like getting bit by using a snake,” former UH forward Greg “Cadillac” Anderson said of Lewis’ departure.
Said Jerry Bonney, who played on Lewis’ early-1970s groups: “He turned into University of Houston basketball.”
That’s now not to mention this system took a nosedive right now. Pat Foster made the 90-mile trek west on Interstate 10 from Lamar University to be successful Lewis, and the Cougars went lower back to the NCAA event in his debut season after missing it for Lewis’ very last two. After a seven-year stint, a 142-73 file, and three event appearances, Foster left Houston for the Nevada task in 1993.
Despite that strong stint, the hobby in the application waned. Attendance dipped with the aid of greater than forty percentage earlier than Foster even arrived and by using more than half of by using the center of his tenure, a fashion that might become not unusual long after his departure.
“When you follow a legend,” Foster stated, “it’s not smooth.”
There’s experience among many who’ve been part of this system that people took Lewis’ fulfillment with no consideration.
“I assume everybody turned into spoiled,” Phi Slama Jama member Michael Young said. “He won, and he received big. He received earlier than us there; he gained with us and the little drop-off he had, I assume he could’ve gotten it returned [if he kept coaching].”
Foster stated some enthusiasts and boosters moved down the road to The Summit with Olajuwon, who was starring for the Houston Rockets. Furthering the task, the athletic branch battled budget problems, a subject matter that foreshadowed destiny struggles.
Foster refuses to cast blame on the one’s problems and says he changed into treated nicely by using fanatics and alumni or even Lewis himself, whom Foster stated “never [said] one poor word” and changed into a “high-quality guy.”
But there was no denying it: The absence of Lewis, his polka-dot towel and his groups’ excessive-flying, run-and-gun style, left this system hung over.
When Foster departed for Reno, this system increased Alvin Brooks, an established Foster assistant. But before Brooks’ team ever hit the ground, the college’s college senate voted to abolish athletics. Brooks, now an assistant for Sampson and in his twenty-first 12 months on the school, says he keeps a screenshot of the news article about the vote on his telephone to at the moment as a reminder.
Though it in no way came to bypass, that sentiment combined with administrative turbulence (Brooks had three athletic directors and 3 college presidents in his five-year tenure) and consistent finances problems (he recalled the time alumni had to improve cash just to get him a fax device in his workplace) had Brooks and his UH coaching opposite numbers scuffling with uphill.
“We were at the heels of 12 months, in ’93 and ‘ninety-four, wherein they’re fighting to preserve athletics, now not pour cash into it,” said Brooks, who turned into additionally just 33 years antique at the time and inside the midst of his first head-training process. “We had been simply trying to stay afloat, in reality.”
In the center of Brooks’ stint, all through which Houston went fifty four-84, the Southwest Conference dissolved, and Houston becomes left out of the group that joined the Big Eight to shape the Big 12 and instead joined Conference USA. Although it becomes a convention full of excellent basketball packages, Houston was at the time the lone one from Texas, leaving fans with unusual convention foes, further fracturing hobby, and attendance.
“It changed loads of things approximately us,” said Lynden Rose, a captain of Houston’s 1982 Final Four crew. “We’re familiar with the contention video games, teams that we’re familiar with. You were not excited about gambling any of these different groups.”
Interest spiked after another education change when Houston called on a former Phi Slama Jama member to lead this system: Clyde Drexler. In his first season, the Cougars averaged 8,479 fans in line with recreation, the second-highest total in program records. But that moment changed into fleeting, as on-court docket struggles persisted. Drexler’s tenure lasted only two seasons, and the program went 19-39, which includes struggling a school-document 22 losses in his final season.
From 2000 to 2014, Houston could undergo three extra head coaches (Ray McCallum, Tom Penders, James Dickey) and make most effective one NCAA event look, while Hofheinz Pavilion — as soon as the place to be to look at extraordinary basketball — went largely not noted.
Upgrades had been few and some distance between. Houston established 20 luxury suites on the concourse level earlier than Drexler’s arrival and a brand new ground in 2004, but through the years, a facility that changed into at first built in 1969 became old.