Chris Paul does not have any ties to the University of Houston. Eric Gordon only has a tie to coach Kelvin Sampson. Yet, there the Houston Rockets guards are, spending their Sunday afternoon at The Fertitta Center the night after a disheartening loss to Oklahoma City.
And you don’t think this now 23-1 UH team is hot?
Don’t look now, but The Fertitta Center has quietly become the place to be in Houston sports. The wins came pouring in — and now the celebrities are coming. It’s good to be a budding March Madness darling.
“We wanted to see some good basketball,” Gordon tells PaperCity. “Coach Sampson has them playing great.”
The University of Houston rolled out the red carpet for Paul, giving him a No. 34 Cougars jersey, which he promptly put on to the delight of a sellout crowd. Paul, one of the greatest point guards in NBA history, isn’t above sharing the love.
Paul goes to Houston Astros games with teammates semi regularly and supports the Texans too. Still, Chris Paul at a UH basketball game is something no one would have expected just a few months ago.
Paul stayed to the very end of Houston’s 65-58 win over No. 25 Cincinnati too. He brought his daughter Camryn Alexis and sat in the first row on the baseline.
This Houston program’s come a long way — ranked No. 12 in America, on track for a three seed in the NCAA Tournament, favored to become the first UH team to advance to the Sweet 16 since those Phi Slama Jama teams 35 long years ago.
Gordon wants it to be known that he is a semi regular at UH games, though. Gordon played for Sampson for a season at Indiana University and the two have maintained a bond. This is his second game at the new $60 million Fertitta Center, which only opened in December. Considering the demands of playing an NBA schedule, that’s no small feat.
Gordon also went to games last year to support Sampson before the humble Holfeinz Pavilion got transformed into the gleaming Fertitta Center.
“He just brings a lot of toughness out of players,” Gordon says of his former coach. “I know I benefitted from playing for him. He’s just a coach that teaches toughness.”
Sampson is quick to point out that his Cougars have actually been winning for years — 27-8 last season, 21-11 in 2016-17 and 22-10 in 2015-16. But there is winning and then there is being one of the most dominant teams in the land.
23-1 type winning with a sparkling transformed arena that’s packed and includes a nice back corridor VIP lounge for guys like Chris Paul to relax in is a very different reality.
It’s one that means University of Houston basketball games are suddenly a place to be — and something of a scene. Paul watched the first half, walked off with Rockets owner (and huge UH backer) Tilman Fertitta. He spent most of halftime talking to Rockets general manager Daryl Morey (another UH game regular) before returning for the second half and staying past the final buzzer.
That’s some serious love for UH and what is happening on Cullen Boulevard. Kelvin Sampson’s program has been blessed by the Point God.
For more on the University of Houston’s run to 23-1, come back to PaperCity for Chris Baldwin’s full game column.