New UH baseball development center and clubhouse part of statewide arms race to improve facilities

via Houston Athletics

The University of Houston hopes the baseball program’s prospective development center and clubhouse will help keep the program on par with the rest of the state. Galveston Daily News writer Anthony Oppermann writes that TCU, Texas A&M, Texas, Baylor, and Texas Tech have all been pouring millions into improving their facilities and UH is hoping to make sure their program is at the same level. Check out the full story here.

UH corner William Jackson III may be a first round pick after running a 4.3 40 at NFL Combine

via NFL

Former University of Houston cornerback William Jackson III may have just vaulted himself into the first round of April’s NFL Draft with his excellent combine performance. Jackson ran a sub-4.4 second 40 yard dash earlier this morning and will soon be rising on many teams’ draft boards. More coverage on Jackson’s combine performance (with video) over at NFL.com here. Also, be sure to check out our previous coverage on Jackson here.

Houston upsets UConn in Storrs 75-68

via USA Today Sports

Behind impressive performances from Devonata Pollard and Damyean Dotson, the Houston Cougars improved to 21-8 and 11-6 in conference on Sunday. With this victory over the UConn Huskies in Connecticut, Kelvin Sampson’s team has risen to third in the AAC standings among post-season eligible teams.

The Cougars have now won eight of their last ten, but their latest win was a hard fought one. Houston struggled right out of the gate against a UConn team that defeated them in their previous meeting, 69-57. They stumbled to a nine-point deficit with 8:25 left in the first half. They were having trouble getting defensive stops and Pollard had racked up a couple fouls early. Dotson, however, made key shots to keep the game manageable. With a three point shot, he sparked an 8-0 run that ended the first half. This bout of scoring brought Houston within one to end the first half, 32-33.

They sustained this momentum swing with a 9-0 run early in the second half, creating a 7-point lead. After this dominant display of offense, the Cougars cooled off a bit, and the two teams exchanges leads. Pollard excelled in the second half and kept the game close. UConn hung around in closing minutes, but a Dotson three put Houston up by six with 1:08 left. This proved to be insurmountable for the Huskies, who, after some late efforts, came up short, 75-68.

Dotson was the difference. He put up 22 points and added an incredible 14 rebounds. Pollard, too, was significant, with 17 points, 13 of which were in the second half. Danrad Knowles and Ronnie Johnson both contributed 10, as well.

Houston actually got outrebounded, 30-35, which isn’t something that they often do. And considering that they still won the game, this is an impressive feat. But they scored fast break points, shot 51.9%, and held UConn’s leading scorer, Shonn Miller, to nine points. While they did allow Daniel Hamilton to score 20, the Huskies didn’t do enough down the stretch to secure a 21th win.

Beating UConn, who are only two years removed from a National Championship, is meaningful for the Cougars. It’s their most impressive outing since beating SMU earlier in the season. But, if anything, it’s indicative of the kind of program that Kelvin Sampson is building at Houston. In only his second year, with a team that he had to almost entirely rebuild, he has crafted wins against LSU, SMU, and UConn. With one game left on the season, they already have 21 wins. Sampson has raised expectations. And while beating a talented, albeit underperforming, UConn team in Connecticut is impressive, I legitimately believed, if not expected, them to win.

This speaks to the consistency with which this team now displays, only one year removed from a 13 win season. They have really turned the corner. Wins like this will likely become commonplace in the near future. Early in his tenure at Houston, his team is third in the conference, and primed to make noise in the AAC Tournament, whose winner earns an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. While the Cougars may not win, they have as good a chance as any. At this point, they can probably beat any conference foe.

They’ll hope to keep these good times alive against Cincinnati on Thursday, in what is the final game of the season. It will take place in Hofheinz Pavilion, and will be the seniors’ last regular season game in Houston uniforms. So, needless to say, the game will be meaningful on multiple levels.

Houston at UConn Preview

via Houston Athletics

On Sunday, February 28th, the Houston Cougars travel to Storrs, Connecticut to take on the UConn Huskies. The game will begin at 12:00 PM and be televised on CBS Sports Network.

The Cougars go into this matchup fairly hot, having won seven of their last nine, and most recently a 27-point road victory over UCF, which notched their first 20 win season in the last three, and clinched a first round bye in the American Athletic Conference Tournament. But their final two games are difficult ones, and UConn will provide a significant challenge to Houston’s goal of ending the season on a streak.

While UConn has fallen to fourth among post-season eligible teams in the AAC, with a record of 20-8 and 10-5 in conference, the Huskies are only two years removed from an NCAA National Championship. And even in that season, their regular season resume didn’t necessarily lead people to one to believe that they would win it all. So, this team could be similarly successful in postseason. However, they must finish the season strong to get an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. And that includes a win over Houston. The Huskies will be motivated to play their best ball.

While UConn has lost eight games, the bulk of these defeats came against formidable opponents, including the likes of Syracuse and Maryland. And in conference, they have lost only to teams currently ahead of them in the standings. They largely haven’t been able to grind out wins against the best in the American. But, with two games remaining on their schedule, and with the conference as tight as it is, the Huskies can still rise. Especially considering their last win was an 81-51 rout of USF.

UConn has four players averaging double digit scoring, including both Shonn Miller and Rodney Purvis, who both average 13.2. They are coached by Kevin Ollie, who led his Huskies team to a national championship the 2013-2014 season after a long career in the NBA. His 2015-2016 squad is experienced, with many players who know how to win.

The Cougars, on the other hand, have only begun to have sustained success. Their offense is as dynamic as it has been all season, and their rebounding has been the lifeblood of the team. They will have to keep this up if they want to win this game.

It will be the seniors’ last visit to Connecticut, and they will look to make the most out of it. Devonta Pollard and LeRon Barnes will likely play hard in their final regular season road game in a Cougar uniform. And perhaps also the team will play for senior L.J. Rose, who missed most of the season with nagging foot injuries. And, of course, a win will give the Cougars momentum going into their final game against Cincinnati and then the AAC Tournament, of which winning will be Houston’s only realistic shot of going to the NCAA Tournament.

UH hopes new biomedical building will help school become bigger player in health care and biotech

The University of Houston is building a second biomedical building in hopes of becoming a bigger player in health care and biotech. Construction on the new building, which will be the new home of the UH College of Pharmacy, will begin this July and has an estimated completion date of 2017 at a cost of $145 million.

More coverage:

Houston Business Journal
REbusiness Online

Houston whoops UCF and secures first-round bye in AAC tournament next month

via UCF Athletics

The Houston Cougars earned their 20th win of the season on Wednesday night. While it came against a reeling UCF team, it notched their first 20 win campaign in the last three, and improved their record to 20-8 and 10-6 in conference.

Houston came into Orlando having won six of their last eight. But their last game was a heartbreaking loss to conference leading Temple at home. But the Cougars bounced back in a big way, securing a regular-season sweep against the team with a 7’6 center named Tacko Fall.

Although they eventually pulled away in this one, the Cougars started slow on offense. Five minutes into the first half, they were down 2-8. They then went on a bit of a run, and a thunderous dunk by Devonta Pollard tied the score, 8-8. The game remained fairly even until the last few minutes of the first half. But Houston began mounting a lead behind layups and another powerful dunk from Pollard. Though this time, he didn’t hold onto the rim, slid off, and fell on his wrist. He looked to be okay, which was evidenced by a one handed slam, which was more impressive than even the preceding ones, but was called off because his other hand already on the rim. It was called a technical foul. But it did nothing to slow them down, as they ended the first half with a three from both Danrad Knowles and Damyean Dotson, creating a 37-25 lead.

Halftime did little to alleviate their momentum. Right out of the gate, Eric Weary Jr., who hasn’t seen many minutes this season, hit a three to continue the offensive onslaught. Not even an elbow to Pollard’s face could stop the groove the Cougars created. They were making their shots and forcing stops on defense. They were firing at all cylinders and jumped out to a 20-point lead with 17 minutes remaining. This allowed deep bench players to get some reps, which could yield dividends come conference tournament time. Xavier Dupree, who hasn’t seen significant minutes in quite a while, got meaningful time on the court, and even hit a nice three.

The game felt secured from early in the second half, and the Cougars cruised to an 88-61 victory. They shot an impressive 56.7% and 50% from three. They outrebounded their opponent, 38-32, and led in essentially every statistical category, save blocks. Dependable Damyean Dotson scored 17. Pollard put up an important 14 and led in rebounding, with 7. Danrad Knowles also added 13.

Houston didn’t let UCF’s superior height adversely affect them. And they held their leading scorer, A.J. Davis, who had gotten into foul trouble, to just 8 points. While Chance McSpadden did put up 15, and Adonys Henriquez 12, the Knights couldn’t stop the dynamic Cougar offense.

Houston perhaps played their best game of the season on Wednesday. They executed each phase of the game well, and dominated, especially in the second half. This was an important win, as the Cougars clinched a first round bye in the American Athletic Conference Tournament. And, ideally, this emphatic victory will give them momentum going forward, as they face two teams currently ahead of them in the standings to close the season. These games against UConn and Cincinnati will be difficult, but if Houston plays as well as they did on Wednesday, they have a good chance of winning them.

Finishing the season strong will be paramount for the Cougars. They will need the momentum going into the conference tournament, because winning it will be their only realistic chance of getting a bid to the NCAA Tournament. But no matter what happens, this game against UCF has shown what they are capable of. And this should give fans a lot of encouragement going into next season, and render them believers in the Kelvin Sampson rebuild, if they weren’t already.

Forever Brothers: After growing up together, Collin Wilder and the Blades twins prepare to play college football

Left: DC Blades (#23) breaks up a pass, via YourHoustonNews. Center: Collin Wilder (#27) via Vype. Right: JR Blades (#21) via @jr_blades.

[Editor’s Note: Big thanks to 6 Blvd. for helping facilitate this story]

When their last semester of high school begins, and football season is over, many players begin to reminisce about the relationships they have forged, the wins, the losses, and, ultimately, what the sport has meant to them since their days in Pop Warner. Football is oftentimes the only consistent thing in the life of an athlete, the driving force that provides structure and purpose. But football isn’t just played for football’s sake. While the goal is to win a state championship, perhaps more importantly, this pursuit provides its participants with bonds that transcend the game. And in Katy, a suburb of Houston, Texas, these bonds grow into lush gardens, because their football fields are watered so faithfully.

It was Katy High School football that helped forge one such bond between three defensive backs, who had to depend on each other in coverage during every snap, and off the field, holding one another to the high standard instilled into them by their coaches, their parents, and their community. This brotherhood consists of JR Blades, DC Blades, and Collin Wilder. Two of these high school seniors are actual twins, heading to Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas, and the other, a friend transformed into a brother on the field and in life, going to the home town University of Houston. With a 6A Division II state title won in their last year as high school athletes, they are savoring their last semester together before they go their separate ways, in pursuit of their football dreams.

Although these young men hoisted a state championship trophy in Katy red and white, their paths to this triumphant moment were disparate before they converged. The Blades twins came from a single parent home. They were raised by their mother, who made significant sacrifices for her five children. Sometimes she wouldn’t eat so they could. Living in a tough neighborhood in Southwest Houston, she put the twins into sports when they were four. And when they moved to Katy a few years later, it was football that acclimated them to their new surroundings.

When JR was eight, he was introduced to Collin Wilder. Their relationship began as a rivalry. He noticed that Collin was the best player on whatever team he was on, no matter the sport, earning him the nickname of “Big 23”. His team always beat JR’s, and usually handily. The closest margin of victory was in a football game, with a final score of 7-0. But “Big 23” scored the lone touchdown.

Noticing his proficiency on the field, JR wanted to beat him more than anything. But their rivalry became a brotherhood when the Blades family moved a few miles over, so that JR and DC could attend Katy High School and be a part of its storied football program that has won a record tying eight state championships.

But the three defensive backs weren’t all on the same team for a few years, because Collin made varsity as a freshman, and subsequently played in an incredible 64 games for Katy. JR earned a full time spot on the varsity team during his junior year, and DC as a senior. So, it was 2015 where the three could prove themselves on the field together and finally render their rivalry into an alliance.

During the final season of their high school football careers, the three defensive backs became close. JR calls Collin a brother, blood who was his biggest supporter and advocate, after his mother, in him reaching his dream of playing college football.

Faith, too, brought them together. Collin was the leader of Bible study for the football players interested in Christianity. JR began going to Collin’s house, as often as four times a week, and got to know his parent’s, whom he now considers family. During a sleepover, Collin led devotions. Off the field, he became a spiritual confidant. They strengthened each other’s faith and honed it into every aspect of their lives, including football.

This growing bond translated to success on the field. But, so too, did a fierce commitment to their craft. Katy breeds a certain kind of football player, one who calls their teammates to join them in supplemental workouts. JR said that on many occasions, he, his brother, Collin, the other DBs, wide receivers, and quarterbacks met on Sundays to work on their routes. And during the summer, defensive backs met at the school at 7:00 to work on their footwork.

This sort of commitment led to a state championship. But JR is not one to brag, or even revel too long in this success. When asked about how it felt to hoist this trophy over his head in victory, he claimed that it mostly made him think about the 2013 and 2014 campaigns and how they fell one game short of the state title. He couldn’t help but wonder what they did wrong then.

JR, DC, and Collin reached the pinnacle of high school football together. But they also helped each other achieve their dreams of playing college football. Collin committed to Texas Tech early in his high school career, and held that sole offer for quite a while. But JR said that he and other teammates thought he would eventually make the decision to play for the University of Houston. Perhaps they planted the seeds, but they look like soothsayers now, as the recently named the Texas Sports Writers Association Class 6A Defensive Player of the Year has signed his letter of intent to play at UH. His recruitment was a whirlwind, with many twists and turns. But he had his teammates, the Blades twins, and his loving family there to help him along, even when he decomitted from Texas Tech and piles of offers began to inundate his mailbox.

The Blades twins, on the other hand, were not as highly recruited. Both cornerbacks, they are a bit undersized. JR stands at about 5’9, and believes that his height accounts for his limited recruitment. But he knows he can play with anyone, and has leadership skills and heart, not to mention speed and strength, that rivals any high school defensive back. And Collin reminded him of this every moment he could.

JR drew interest from the coaching staff at Midwestern State University while at a camp there. The coaches were drawn to his leadership. When a linebacker jumped a flat during a scrimmage, JR used the opportunity to teach the player the coverage that, he too, had just learned. This resonated with MSU, and the mutual interest manifested in an offer to play football in Wichita Falls. The Division II school became even more appealing when DC was offered, too. The twins would be playing football together, bringing their Katy commitment to excellence to Wichita Falls.

While JR didn’t have many offers, he takes advantage of every opportunity he is presented with. So he is all in on MSU, and can seen wearing a gray Midwestern State t-shirt around Katy. It means a lot to him to be able to play with his twin brother. They will be the first in their family to attend university.

While JR’s goal is to become a professional football player, he also dreams of becoming a pharmacist. He views MSU as the place that can provide the opportunity to achieve both. He has his life planned out and is excited to execute every aspect of it to the best of his ability, so that his dreams can come true and he can give back to his mom, who sacrificed so much for he and his siblings.

When asked about Collin staying home and being a part of the H-Town Takeover, by playing for UH, JR beamed. He thinks it’s a great decision for his teammate, who gets to represent the city he is from. He is happy for the friend, the bother, he met through the game they both love so much. But while football brought them together, it’s now also separating them. Katy’s success in molding kids into college athletes results in an annual exodus of its graduates, who go on to populate football programs across the nation.

JR’s biggest concern is losing communication with Collin and the rest of the team. He thinks their bond, forged through spirituality and football, is special, so much so that he believes an ESPN 30 for 30 could be made about it. He aims to call Collin at least twice a week and watch his games when he can. He acknowledges that the relationship can be maintained, that it is in their power to keep in touch, to work out together in the summers, and remain fierce advocates of one another. So JR will do all he can to ensure that nothing will break this bond, including the separation of time and space.

Texas high school football is otherworldly in many ways. Those outside of the state’s borders may never understand it. But it breeds brotherhood and connects young men that may have never interacted in any other circumstance. When a program is run in the right way, and has the right kids in it, special things can happen. Katy High School has executed this as well as an institution can. But what really matters is how the players grow and learn to be leaders, propping each other up when things get difficult, and helping one another fulfill their dreams. What matters is this network of support. This connection between the Blades twins and Collin Wilder exemplifies the best of football.

JR’s dream is in the process of coming true. He has an opportunity and is going to make the most out of it, like he does in every endeavor he pursues. But his mom reminds him that this is just the beginning, that he must focus and see things through if he wants to achieve the goals he has set for himself. But he will have the support of his family, both biological and the one formed through football.

Although he may be reminiscing now about the memories he has made through sports, when the time comes for him to go to Wichita Falls, JR will be focused on the present and future, on football and pharmacy. And he’ll have a smile on his face through every step of the way, because that’s just the way he is.

President Khator writes about getting UH ready for tomorrow’s debate

via @UHpres

University of Houston President and Chancellor Renu Khator wrote a new blog post over on her official blog about getting the campus ready for the debate. Click here to check it out! And don’t forget, if you can’t make it to the debate check out the official watch party and afterparty over at Calhoun’s which will have media on hand and possibly a candidate after the debate.

Coog Club Gymnastics is taking U of H and the state of Texas by storm. Now they hope for their own campus facility.

Photo courtesy of the Coog Club Gymnastics Team

From a young age, kids across the country start playing tee ball. Tee ball becomes Little League, Little League leads them to school teams in junior high and high school. With enough hard work and dedication, a number of athletes go on to play for a University – maybe a parent’s alma mater, or a school they admired and followed while growing up and perfecting their sport.

Gymnastics is one of the the most popular sports for both girls and boys alike, especially at a young age. Multiple gyms and clubs groom young gymnasts to become elite athletes. Gymnasts, just as baseball players, soccer players, football players – you name it – spend years devoted to a sport that they love. However, only a handful of universities offer gymnastics programs. The only two universities in the state of Texas with a gymnastics program are Baylor and Texas Woman’s University. While Baylor is a Division I school, their program has no tryouts and no coach. Haley Poinsette has successfully brought gymnastics to the University of Houston as Founder & President of Coog Club Gymnastics.

Poinsette has been a gymnast for the majority of her life, until an injury during her junior year of high school brought her practice to a halt. With scholarship opportunities taken away from her, she decided to attend Arizona State University, where she would train for 8 months in an attempt to walk on to the ASU gymnastics team. Due to unforeseen obstacles, Poinsette moved back home to Houston.

“I was forced to move back home, from there I kept training hoping to get a scholarship as a transfer student,” Poinsette said.

Because very few universities offer gymnastics programs, there weren’t any schools that could offer her any kind of scholarship when she was looking to transfer to a school with a team. Poinsette ultimately chose to attend the University of Houston because of the close proximity to her roots.

“After a few weeks, I decided that if no one wanted to take [me] as their gymnast, then I would just make it happen on my own. From there I heard about NAIGC (National Association of Intercollegiate Gymnastics Clubs) and all of the amazing things they do for people like me who still love the sport of gymnastics.” Poinsette declared.

Since then, she has put tireless effort into her passion of establishing an official program for gymnasts just like her who want the opportunity to compete and represent the University of Houston proudly.

“I had just spent almost a year getting back into shape and training so there was no way that I was gonna let that all go to waste.”

Her efforts have already begun to pay off. Poinsette has succeeded in getting Coog Club Gymnastics recognized as an official student organization. She began as the sole member of the club, where she represented U of H at Nationals and won multiple medals. In the fall of 2015, three additional members joined the club, followed by an additional 13 students in the spring of 2016. 10 members of Coog Club Gymnastics now compete and represent U of H in gymnastics.

Although Coog Club Gymnastics started off as more of a personal goal for Poinsette, it has blossomed into something much bigger. Her goal now is to make gymnastics an officially recognized NCAA sport at U of H.

“I am currently in the process of taking this AS FAR as U of H and the community will let me.”

There is currently a petition to President Khator and the University of Houston in an effort to bring a gymnastics facility to campus. You can view and sign the petition on Change.org here.

Houston at UCF Preview

via USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday, February 24th, the Houston Cougars travel to Orlando, Florida to take on the UCF Knights. The game starts 6:00 PM and will be televised on ESPNU.

The Cougars are coming off of a heartbreaking loss to conference leading Temple, in which they led by as much as 10 in the second half. In the closing minutes, however, the Owls asserted their way back into the game and won by three. This dropped the Cougars to 19-8 and 9-6 in conference, and down to fifth in the American among post-season eligible teams.

UCF is 11-14 on the season, and 5-9 in conference. They have struggled mightily as of late, losing eight of their last nine, including an 82-58 loss to the Cougars on February 13th. In the American, the Knights have defeated only East Carolina, USF, and Tulane. All of these teams sit below them in conference standings, occupying the lowest rungs possible.

The Cougars look to be well suited to complete the regular season series sweep against UCF. But they could, perhaps, overlook the team from Orlando, because two difficult games against UConn and Cincinnati follow. The Knights also have height that could prove difficult for them to contain, as Houston often struggles against bigs with a formidable post presence. UCF has center, Tacko Fall, who stands at an immense 7’6, and has 54 blocks on the season. Their other center, Justin McBride, is 6’10, 325 points, and averages 7.6 points a game. And their leading scorer, A.J. Davis is a respectable 6’9. If the Cougars aren’t merely looking ahead to their final two games of the season, it could be these big men who put a blemish on their record.

But they are playing good basketball at this point in the season. While they lost to Temple, they did play well. And leading scorer, Rob Gray Jr., will be play his third game back from injury, and has reemerged as the most potent offensive threat. He scored 20 against Temple, and will likely look to repeat this feat against UCF, or perhaps transcend it.

Devonta Pollard, too, will look to play Kelvin Sampson approved basketball. This will be this third to last regular season game for the Cougars after a whirlwind college career that included stops at the University of Alabama and East Mississippi Community College. He has been the backbone of the team in his two years in Houston, and will likely impress in last trip to Orlando before the American Athletic Conference Tournament.

A win against UCF will help the Cougars’ seeding in this event, of which winning is Houston’s only realistic way of attaining a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The players, each of whom has played a role in this exciting turnaround season, will know this, and will likely respond with strong play to close out the season. And with so few games left, fans should savor every moment we have left with Sampson’s first real team for the University of Houston, with his recruits and transfers. They have made us all proud this season, which has already exceeded expectations.