Kelvin Sampson sat in his University of Houston basketball office Wednesday and talked about his affinity for the job. Sampson has turned the Cougars into one of the nation’s top programs, with four straight trips to the Sweet 16 and a 2021 Final Four appearance.
Unprompted, Sampson said he had been contacted about several job openings in recent years but was uninterested.
“I’m too old to move,” said the 67-year-old Sampson.
Four hours later, ESPN broke the news that Sampson had interviewed with the Milwaukee Bucks for their vacant coaching job.
Coaches are funny and often hard to trust.
But in this case, the seemingly-incongruent sides of the story could both be true.
An NBA source said Thursday that Sampson’s talks with the Bucks were not serious in terms of the job itself. They were more exploratory in nature, with Milwaukee officials mining Sampson for advice and Sampson OK with his name getting out to enhance his NBA credibilitywith prospective recruits.
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The source likened it to coaches who interview for a job that has already been decided upon.
Sampson was a Bucks assistant coach from 2008-11 (and a Houston Rockets assistant from 2011-14, before landing the Houston U. job).
On Wednesday in his office, Sampson talked about how much he is enjoying life, surrounded by his family. His son, Kellen, is on the basketball staff and has been announced as the “coach-in-waiting" when Kelvin Sampson retires. Kelvin Sampson’s daughter, Lauren Sampson, is UofH’s director of basketball operations.
Kelvin Sampson joked that when he gets too worked up in practice – and Sampson can get worked up in practice – he now just tells Kellen to take over and heads out to see his grandchildren, Maisy and Kylen.
“People talk about me, it's the family,” Sampson said. “What Kellen has done here, with his individual work, how he's transitioned into thinking like a head coach now, still working like an assistant coach.
“This place (Fertitta Center) is humming, because of Lauren Elizabeth Sampson. She’s got the band, the cheerleaders. That is her domain. She coaches those people, and she’s tougher than I am.”
Sampson’s two other assistant coaches are Quannas White and Hollis Price, who formed the backcourt on Sampson’s great OU teams of 2001-02 and 2002-03. Sampson calls them “surrogate sons.”
Also on Sampson’s staff is Bobby Champagne, who was with Sampson at Washington State (1991-94) and OU (1994-97), and graduate assistant Cole Rabedeaux, son of the late Jason Rabedeaux, who was a Sampson assistant at OU.
Sampson has built a family cocoon in Houston, with rousing success. Coaching one of the best teams in the NBA and one of the best players in the world (Giannis Antetokounmpo) would be tempting. But does Sampson want to cash in all that he’s built in Houston?
The Houston Chronicle reported that sometime in the last two weeks, Sampson was presented a revised contract which would place him among the 15 highest-paid coaches in college basketball. He’s scheduled to make $3.4 million next season.
“People got your back,” Sampson said of his working situation at Houston. “When I leave this office, if I go do something, I know what's happening, because these people have ownership.”
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Thunder loses NBA Lottery
The Thunder didn’t win the NBA Lottery. The Thunder lost the NBA Lottery.
Those are two different things.
The Thunder’s 1.7% chance of landing at No. 1 in the NBA Draft was a longshot. The Thunder has a better chance at winning the 2024 league championship than it had of winning the 2023 lottery.
OKC had an 85% chance of landing at No. 12 in the draft, and that’s where the Thunder is slotted.
But even after the Thunder logo came up at No. 12, things got worse.
A Western Conference team got the No. 1 pick. The San Antonio Spurs were the lucky devils who secured the rights to Victor Wembanyama, the 7-foot-5 (he seems to grow by the day) French phenom who apparently has mastered basketball more than Wayne Gretzky mastered ice hockey or Tiger Woods mastered grass golf.
Nothing against the Spurs. I’m quite happy for Gregg Popovich and the fine folks of San Antone, who enjoyed a Patriots-style championship era (five titles in 16 seasons) before falling on recent hard times.
If Wembanyama had to go somewhere in the West, I’d have voted for San Antonio, Utah or Portland, who join Oklahoma City in the Small Market Cluband have mostly remained competitive over the years, avoiding the all-out tanking that plagues the NBA.
But why did Wemby have to come West? Don’t the basketball gods know that Eastern Conference airports have plenty of international flights?
The West has been best in the NBA for a quarter century. Much tougher at the top. Much deeper in the middle.
The West dominance is not because of lottery luck. In the 21st century, an Eastern Conference team has won 14 of the 24 lotteries.
But the West has won most of the lotteries that really mattered, when a transcendent prospect loomed. Zion Williamson in 2019. Anthony Davis in 2012. Tim Duncan, going back to 1997. Now Wembanyama. Cleveland got LeBron James in 2003, and that seemed to work out.
More: What might OKC Thunder do with 12th pick in NBA Draft? Here are possible trade-ups, targets
Zion has been too injured to matter. But Davis made New Orleans relevant and became trade fodder that fortified the Pelicans (Brandon Ingram). Duncan, you know all about.
The West lottery winners have screwed up their bounty a couple of times. The Suns drafted Deandre Ayton instead of Luka Doncic in 2018. The Blazers drafted Greg Oden instead of Kevin Durant. But Doncic and Durant fell to Western Conference teams, so there was little shift in the balance of power.
With the Thunder an ascending team in the West, every little bit helps. When a free agent jumps from West to East, or a premium draft pick goes East instead of West, the Thunder road gets a little smoother.
So stay in the East, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez. Get to the East, Draymond Green.
The 2023 lottery tilted West. Not just San Antonio, but Portland jumped to third, with Houston fourth. Only Charlotte, at No. 2, made the lottery finals from the East.
Wembanyama would have looked awfully fine in Hornets teal. French dressing is exactly what the NBA’s sleepiest franchise needed. And it would have kept Wemby out of the Thunder’s hair for a half decade at least.
I don’t know if Wembanyama is the greatest prospect since James Naismith hung up a peach basket 134 years ago, but he seems at least capable of being a difference-maker and propelling the Spurs back into playoff contention in a year or three.
The East has made inroads on producing top-level teams. For awhile, LeBron was saving the East from G League status – his Miami, then Cleveland, teams went to eight straight NBA Finals.
But East teams Toronto (2019) and Milwaukee (2021) have won championships in recent years, and Boston might win in 2023 if coach Joe Mazzulla realizes that he can call timeouts.
And the East has produced a winning record vs. West teams the last two seasons, after the Western Conference had the better record in 21 of the previous 22 seasons.
But the West’s long-term outlookswamps the East. The West has young, talented rosters in Memphis, New Orleans and OKC; battleship rosters with the Lakers, Clippers, Suns and Warriors, all with the markets to fortify the roster; plus the Nuggets and Kings, who were 1-2 in the West this very season.
In the West, the likes of Minnesota are behind the curve. In the East, the Timberwolves would be in the thick of contention.
Now add San Antonio to the mix. Oh well, that’s life in the West. The only NBA life Oklahoma City has known.
You don’t backdoor your way to the Western Conference semifinals. You’ve got to draft and develop and force your way there. Nothing new.
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Mailbag: Victor Wembanyama
My ScissorTale item on overall No. 1 NBA draft picks struck a chord with at least one reader.
Bruce: “Really enjoyed the list of the best No. 1 overall draft picks in NBA history. It really took me down memory lane. There is a very slight chance VictorWembanyama could turn out to be the best human ever to dribble a basketball, although I would bet the under. There is a little bit better chance he could be the best player in the world at some point in his life, but nothing is guaranteed. Then I thought about the top of your list. Without being hyperbolic, 1969 Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) was at a minimum the fourth-best basketball player in the world and probably the best. Wilt (Chamberlain) and Oscar (Robertson) had started their declines at that point, and I'm not sure that Jerry West at his peak was better than 22-year-old Kareem. If I'm missing anyone that would deserve to be in that discussion, please let me know, because it predates me by a few years. Either way, to confidently claimVictor Wembanyamathe greatest prospect in the history of the sport and maybe any sport is absolute hogwash and is a complete disservice to the best prospect in the history of the NBA. It has always fascinated me how many experts discount the greatness of Kareem, and I've wondered if it's a conscious or unconscious vendetta against someone who was never a media darling, often was a pain to deal with and at times even a thorn in their side.”
Tramel: I think it’s just timing. Jabbar’s rookie season was 53 years ago.
Great point about the best players in the world, circa 1969. The NBA’s 1969 most valuable player voting was odd.
Rookie Wes Unseld won the MVP as a rookie. I love me some Wes Unseld, always have. But no way was he the best player in the NBA and most likely wasn’t the most valuable, either.
Second and third in the voting were 26-year-old Willis Reed and 25-year-old Billy Cunningham, respectively. Reed is one of my favorite people of all time. But neither Reed nor Cunningham were as good as Jabbar was as a UCLA senior.
Fourth and fifth in the voting were Bill Russell, 34, and Elgin Baylor, 34. Both still were great, but past their prime.
The all-NBA first team consisted of Robertson, Cunningham, Baylor, Unseld and Earl Monroe.
It is quite possible that in spring 1969, the best basketball player in the world had just completed his senior season at UCLA.
The whole reason why 19-year-olds today are so much more valued than 22-year-olds is because the scouts largely know what the 22-year-old will be, while the 19-year-olds have a much bigger window for potential.
But with players like Jabbar (and Oscar, and Hakeem Olajuwon, and whoever), you know exactly what you're getting with the 22-year-old. And with Jabbar, that something was out of this world.
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Big 12 signs with Independence Bowl
OU and OSU have a long history with the Independence Bowl. That history might not be finished.
The Shreveport, Louisiana-based game announced this week that the Big 12 has signed on with the Independence Bowl for 2023 and 2025, taking the place of Brigham Young, which on July 1 will join the Big 12.
The Independence alignments for the next three seasons:
2023: Big 12 vs. Pac-12
2024: Army vs. Pac-12
2025: Big 12 vs. Conference USA
The pecking order for Big 12 bowl games has not been announced. It’s safe to assume that Independence will be far down the list. Here’s the current list:
1. New Year’s Six bowl (the Big 12’s contract with the Sugar Bowl is not in play, since the Sugar is a semifinal this season).
2. Alamo Bowl (San Antonio) vs. Pac-12
3. Cheez-It Bowl (Orlando) vs. Atlantic Coast
4. Texas Bowl (Houston) vs. Southeastern Conference
5. Liberty Bowl (Memphis) vs. SEC
6. Guaranteed Rate Bowl (Phoenix) vs. SEC
7. Independence Bowl (Shreveport) vs. Pac-12
8. First Responder Bowl (University Park, Texas) vs. ACC, American or Pac-12.
9. Armed Forces Bowl (Fort Worth) vs. American, Conference USA or Pac-12
“We are very excited to get the Big 12 Conference in our lineup for 2023 and 2025,” said Independence Bowl executive director Missy Setters. “The Big 12 was a staple in our game for a long time, and our footprints match tremendously. They are a conference of great teams, rich tradition and passionate fan bases, so we could not be happier to feature them once again.”
OSU lost to Texas A&M 33-16 in the 1981 Independence, which was the sixth year for the game.
The Big 12 signed on with the Independence from 1998-2011, during which time OU played once (a 27-25 loss to Ole Miss in 1999) and OSU played once (a 34-31 victory over Alabama in 2006).
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The List: College football TV announcements
College football television announcements are trickling out. Game times and networks for the first three weeks of the season are scheduled to be announced no mater than May 31, but for now, here’s what we know:
1. The OU-Texas game on October 7 in Dallas will be televised by ABC, kickoff time to be determined.
2. The Colorado at Texas Christian game on September 2, Deion Sanders’ debut as the CU coach, will be Fox’s Big Noon Kickoff Game, with an 11 a.m. CT start.
3. Texas plays at Alabama on September 9, with a 6 p.m. kickoff, to be televised by ESPN.
4. The Florida State-Louisiana State game on Sunday, September 3, in Orlando will kick off at 6:30 p.m. and be televised by ABC.
5. The other announced Big Noon Kickoff game will be Ohio State at Michigan on November 25.
6. West Virginia opens the season on September 2 at Penn State, televised by NBC with a 6:30 p.m. kickoff.
7. ABC gets the November 4 Notre Dame at Clemson game.
8. CBS gets the Iowa at Penn State game, set for 7 p.m. September 23.
9. NBC will televise Michigan State at Ohio State on November 11, with a 6:30 p.m. kickoff.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.