Big 12 News

Kelvin Sampson on Return to Oklahoma: ‘It’s Not a Normal Game’

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Rutgers at Houston

Year 1 in the Big 12 has been kind to Kelvin Sampson and the Houston Cougars. Proving itself one of the top programs in the country over the last half-decade, Houston has become a powerhouse under Sampson.

With four regular season championships and two AAC Tournament Championships since 2018-19 and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen or better in every tournament since then, the Cougars were a force to be reckoned with before they had the Big 12 patch on their uniform. Now, they’re on the verge of becoming a juggernaut.

With just a few games left in the regular season, Houston has put together a 25-3 record and a 12-3 mark in Big 12 play, putting them one game ahead of Iowa State for the Big 12 regular season crown.

 

The Coogs have gone 4-2 against the other top-six teams in the Big 12 so far this year, splitting the regular season series with Iowa State and dropping their first game against Kansas, whom they’ll close the season with at home on March 9.

Despite playing tough competition all season, the most difficult game of the season for Kelvin Sampson, at least from an emotional standpoint, may very well be the matchup vs. Oklahoma on Saturday.

Sampson was the head coach at Oklahoma from 1994-2006, leading the Sooners to nine consecutive 20-win seasons and 11 NCAA Tournament appearances in his 12 years there, including a Sweet 16 run in 1999, a Final Four appearance in 2002, and an Elite Eight run in 2003.

Going back to a place where he won 279 games and still holds the highest winning percentage in school history (.719) will be tough, and he’s not shying away from the fact.

 

“I think my focus is… I mean, it’s not a normal game,” Sampson told media on Thursday. “I’m not gonna sit here and say that. This is a place that our family spent 12 years. A lot of dear friends, and a lot of dear friends that have passed away too. Actually, that’s kind of what I thought of at first.”

Sampson listed a few friends, including Toby Keith, who “are gone now,” as he makes his return to Norman.

“There’s still a lot of people there on staff that were there and are still there. I had the good fortune to coach with Bob Stoops, Hall of Fame football coach, Sherri Coale, Hall of Fame Women’s basketball coach, and Patty Gasso, Hall of Fame softball coach. We were all on the same staff. Johnny Duncan, Steve Owens, and Joe Castiglione were my bosses…”

Sampson paused, trying to gather himself as his emotions got the better of him.

“But the relationship with the players trumps all that. I’ve heard from a lot of them, and that’s the part of it. But the key is not letting that distract you from the main goal of going on this trip. There’s a basketball game to play, and it’s about the players.”

The top-ranked Cougars and Oklahoma Sooners (19-9, 7-8) are set to tip at 7:00 p.m. CT on ESPN2 on Saturday night at the Lloyd Noble Center.

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