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UH assembles one last time to celebrate Final Four ride



HOUSTON, TX – Through the coronavirus pandemic and a rare February ice storm, the University of Houston men’s basketball team kept winning.

Twenty-eight times in all, second most in the nation. A perfect 15-0 at home. A magical run to the Final Four.

“This city has gone through a lot in the last 12 months,” mayor Sylvester Turner, a 1977 graduate of UH, said Wednesday night during a Final Four celebration at Fertitta Center. “The city needed something to bring in a lot of positive energy. In 2017, the Astros carried this city. The city was in desperate need of somebody, some team, to carry this city one more time. Who better to turn to but the University of Houston Cougars?”

Turner proclaimed April as “University of Houston basketball month.”

Four days after the season ended with a loss to Baylor in the national semifinals, the Cougars and a socially distanced crowd gathered one final time to celebrate one of the best seasons in school history.

The Cougar Brass Band and cheerleaders made courtside appearances. Families sat in the student section. Fans were scattered throughout the arena.

“Look at those trophies,” UH president Renu Khator said as she looked over her shoulder at the American Athletic Conference tournament and Midwest Regional championship trophies.

Wednesday was the last time the 2020-21 UH basketball team will be together.

“One (Final) Shining Moment.”

The last time DeJon Jarreau, the “heart and soul” of this team, degree in hand, will dazzle with his moves in the lane and perfectly timed alley-oops to Brison Gresham.

The last time Justin Gorham will show why he was one of the top rebounders in the nation.

As All-America guard Quentin Grimes stepped to the microphone, he was greeted with chants of “One more year! One more year!” Grimes said he will take a few days to discuss his future — whether to leave early for the NBA draft — with his family and UH coach Kelvin Sampson.

“We expect Quentin to be in the NBA next season,” Sampson said. “We want him to get drafted.”

UH’s run to the Final Four was the school’s first since it made consecutive championship game appearances with Hakeem Olajuwon in 1983-84. UH wound up No. 3 in the USA Today coaches’ poll, the school’s best finish since 1984.

“Thank you for the thrill you gave us,” UH board of regents chairman Tilman Fertitta said. “Final Four. You get to hang a banner. You’re No. 3 in the nation. Unbelievable.”

Sampson went down the list of team members. He thanked his coaching staff. He thanked his sports performance staff and medical personnel. He thanked his family. He thanked his support staff and student managers.

He saved his best stories for his players. How “selfless” Fabian White Jr. was to come back, less than seven months from an ACL injury, to play for the seniors during the final month. How he first met Jarreau and said, “You need me more than I need you.” He called Grimes “Big Shot Q.”

“He always made the ones that counted,” Sampson added. “Always. He was our guy. When we needed a big basket … it was Quentin Grimes.”

In an unprecedented COVID-19 season, Sampson recalled the almost daily testing. The “controlled environment” the team went through during a three-week stay in Indianapolis for the NCAA Tournament. Right after the February freeze, Sampson said he sent staffers out for food for the team to take on a flight to Wichita, Kan. — chicken salad sandwiches, potato chips and honey buns.

“It was a hell of a ride,” Sampson said. “It’s a journey we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.”

With the success also comes time to upgrade. Sampson said he took a tour of the Fertitta Center on Wednesday and wrote down a list of improvements he wants to make. He also plans to visit some NBA facilities for ideas.

“I’ll be in your office tomorrow letting you know what we need,” Sampson told athletic director Chris Pezman.

Khator is already looking forward to the next Final Four run.

“I brought out my dancing shoes, and I’m not putting them too far back in the closet,” she said. “Because we’ll be needing them again next year.”