by RENALDO DORSETT
A new coaching staff, a major turnover on the roster and another year of experience in the programme has a trio of Bahamian players optimistic about the upcoming NCAA season.
Mikhail McLean, Danrad Knowles and LJ Rose were just a few of the many topics discussed at the school’s annual Media Day on Wednesday at the Carl Lewis Auditorium on the Cougars’ campus in Houston, Texas.
McLean, a senior forward, was one of three student-athletes to participate in media day alongside new head coach Kelvin Sampson.
Currently hobbled with a foot injury, McLean, said his role as a team leader continues while he remains on the sidelines and as the team adjusts to Sampson.
“Right now Im currently hurt and not playing but its just teaching more and I get to see who’s engaged in the game. I’m just trying to lead guys even though I’m on the sideline, just always keeping my eyes on things that matter to the team,” he said, “Its a completely different culture, he (Sampson) instills toughness. He’s showing facets of the game that I really never even knew about and I’ve been playing basketball almost all my life. It’s been really cool seeing things from and NBA perspective and bringing it to college.”
A veteran of 13 NCAA Tournaments, Sampson, a former Houston Rockets assistant and college coach was officially introduced as theCougars head coach in April following the conclusion of the season.
The 2013/14 season saw the Houston program defeat three top-25 teams, its most wins over ranked opponents since the 1983-84 season, while recording a program-best APR of 930 and setting records for fall and semester team GPAs.The Cougars finished the season 17-16 and fell to Louisville in the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference Championship.
“Realistically I always want our team to do the best they possibly can, always the goal is to make the tournament,” McLean said, “I really think we’re going to surprise people this year.”
McLean appeared in 28 games with 16 starts. He averaged 2.6 points and 1.8 rebounds per game.
A former St John’s College Giant, graduated this last summer with a major in health and a minor in human and developmental consumer science and merchandising.
After earning his bachelor’s degree in three years, he enrolled in graduate school.In his sophomore season, McLean competed in the first five games of the season but was lost for the remainder of the year after being diagnosed with a stress fracture in his right foot in early December.
He received a medical redshirt for the year.McLean’s off the court excellence has been well documented as he won the Conference USA Winter Spirit of Service Award for community service in 2013.Knowles will leaned upon heavily as one of the top returning scorers to the program following the departure of All-Conference forward TaShawn Thomas.
The redshirst sophomore forward said he is ready to accept the challenge posed by Sampson.“Im prepared to do whatever the coach needs,” he said, “He wants me to play more aggressive, Im sort of laid back most of the time but I understand what he’s saying – he wants me to rebound more play with a lot more edge, Defensively he wants me to block more shots, but its not just about me, it’s a team thing really.”
On the court, last season, Knowles averaged 7.1 points and 4.3 rebounds per game in just over 19 minutes per game.He appeared in 31 games with 10 starts.Knowles was ruled academically ineligible for his true freshman season but made an immediate impact on and off the court for the Cougars once he gained eligibility.
He was ranked 51st in the ESPN top 100, according to ESPN with a scout’s grade of 94 coming out of high school.He was 13th at his position in the state, 10th in the region and seventh in the state of Texas.The pair were rewarded for their efforts in the classroom during the last NCAA academic season.At the conclusion of the 2013-14 campaign, both McLean and Knowles were named to the American Athletic Conference All-Academic Team, the only members of the Cougars’ basketball programme to achieve the honour.
The third player in the trio, junior guard LJ Rose enters his second season as the Cougars starting point guard on the mend with a broken foot.Rose will reportedly be out until at least late December according to Sampson.
“If we get him back before Christmas, it’s a great Christmas gift,” Sampson said, “It’s the same foot injury that Kevin Durant had. It’s frustrating because it didn’t take long to figure out when I got the job in April that he was the key to make this work. He was a pass-first, pass-second point guard.”
Rose averaged 8.9 points and 5.5 assists last season.He injured his foot as a member of the Bahamas national team in the opening game of July’s Caribbean Basketball Championships in Tortola, British Virgin Islands.
A second generation Cougar, his father Lynden Sr played collegiately at Houston, where he was a member of Phi Slama Jama, and was selected by the Los Angeles Lakers in the sixth round of the 1982 NBA Draft.His uncle, the late Cecil Rose, also played collegiately for the Cougars and was selected in the 1978 draft by the New Jersey Nets.
“It [the injuries] hasn’t affected us at all. We are kind of a `next man up’ mentality. L.J. Rose has been out with a broken foot, Mikhail McLean (also) has a broken foot. I’ve never coached those guys before. Everything’s new, so missing a guy means nothing to me. I don’t know what you can miss unless you’ve had it,” Sampson said, “Even though I haven’t worked with L.J. much, you can tell he’s a great kid too – we have great kids. That’s the thing I really like about this team. I have no idea how good we are obviously, but I like this team. They have no experience playing in this system, so they are all new to me.”
The Cougars open the season on November 8 with an exhibition game against North Alabama inside Hofheinz Pavilion.After starting the regular season on November 14 at Murray State, Houston meets Morgan State on November 22 in the regular-season home opener inside Hofheinz Pavilion.