From the Pressbox | February 14, 2019

refwThere haven’t been any wide-spread rumblings of the return of “Phi Slamma Jamma” to the campus of the University of Houston, but you just have to know that Cougar fans are having fun in the barn once again.

Kelvin Sampson – who made a name for himself at Washington State and held the reigns at Indiana and Oklahoma – took over the program in Houston in 2014 and has steadily lifted the program to levels not seen since Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler were leading “Texas’ Tallest Fraternity” in the early 1980’s.

The Cougs finished 27-8 last season, surprising many with their First Round victory over San Diego State. Indeed, a lay-up with 1.2 seconds for the 67-65 victory was sweet. This year’s edition won’t come close to losing eight games. Houston is 23-1, having suffered a loss only in Philadelphia to Temple, 73-69. Ranked #9 in both the Associated Press and Coaches’ polls, Sampson and Company still have their way to weave through a moderately-rugged American Athletic Conference.

The biggest land-mines remaining are on the road tonight at UConn and then in the regular-season finale, at second-place Cincinnati. The Bearcats are 20-4 and just popped in to the #25 spot and are always tough at home. That some possibly, slightly moth-eaten red Cougar apparel is being seen at the recently-renovated Fertitta Center (a little $60 million face-lift) is understandable.

The image of Guy V. Lewis prowling the Houston bench in one of his plaid jackets is still strong with the Cougar set, many of whom from those high-flying days are in their prime “contributing” years.

Sampson understands the connection and the drawing power he has with a program like the Cougars and how can it hurt when you can occasionally name-drop NBA Hall of Famers that played together back in the ‘80’s? If HOF membership were based on nicknames instead of mere talent, Hakeem “The Dream” (Olajuwon) and “Clyde The Glide” Drexler would have a few more of their teammates donning custom-fit jackets as well. Greg “Cadillac” Anderson. Larry “Mr. Mean” Micheaux.

“The Silent Assassin” – Michael Young. One of the best off the bench was Benny Anders, “The Bomber from Bernice.” Guy V. was able to get the Louisiana native away from Dale Brown and LSU, and he not only got an exciting player but one of the more colorful in the NCAA game at the time of its ascent to the “major” televised sports.

Anders’ career led him to the bright lights of the Phillipine Basketball Association and various stops in South American leagues, but he may yet be remembered best for showing up at the 1984 tournament in a tuxedo, complete with pink bow-tie, cumberbund and sun glasses.

Disappointed Kentucky fans loved the look. When UK was eliminated by Patrick Ewing and Georgetown in the Final Four, the Wildcat fans adopted Houston and especially Anders in the championship game between Houston and Georgetown.

One Kentucky fan brandished a sign reading “Benny Anders for President” – and Benny kinda liked it. As the story goes, he would spend no small part of his evening after the loss to Georgetown with that Kentucky fan (John Gambill), who later found Anders’ game uniform from the title game in his afternoon mail.

There may not be any Benny Anders’ out there this season but the story-lines in college basketball really start getting interesting as the tournament nears. How fun that another D-I program in Texas is getting into the lime-light.

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