Houston coach Sampson praises Wichita State basketball fans, Shockers’ ‘legendary venue’

Jaime Green/The Wichita Eagle

In likely his final trip to Koch Arena, Houston men’s basketball coach Kelvin Sampson heaped significant praise on the Wichita State program and fan base following the Cougars’ 70-61 win over the Shockers on Thursday.

“I call the Roundhouse the loud house,” Sampson said. “This is a legendary venue in college basketball.

“We’re stuck here in middle America and sometimes people on the east coast don’t realize what great basketball is in Wichita, Kansas. What (K-State coach Jerome) Tang is doing up in Manhattan, people are starting to realize. Well, Wichita State has been doing that a long time. They’ve been great for a long time. Not a good program, a great program and I’ve always been a big fan of Wichita State. I’ve had a healthy, sincere respect for Wichita State basketball for a long time. If this is my last time here, then I thank the good Lord that it ended with a win.”

Houston and Wichita State were foes in the Missouri Valley Conference from 1950-60, then renewed their conference rivalry when the Shockers joined the American Athletic Conference for the 2017-18 season.

The Cougars depart for the Big 12 following this season, which means the second iteration of the rivalry will have only lasted for six years. But in that brief span, Houston’s trips to Koch Arena have produced some of WSU’s most memorable AAC games.

Sampson still remembers coming to the Roundhouse for WSU’s first home game in the AAC era when the Shockers drilled 10 first-half 3-pointers to ignite the crowd in a 81-63 victory, an 18-point defeat that still ranks as Houston’s most lopsided loss in conference play since the 2017-18 season.

“That was one of the worst butt whippings we’ve had,” Sampson said. “They made 20 threes in the first half. We couldn’t shoot that in practice with nobody in there but ourselves. They were all making threes, but they had a good team too. Everybody knows what a great coach Gregg (Marshall) was.”

Then Sampson went backward in time to discuss the show-stopping Shocker teams of the 1980s under coach Gene Smithson.

“Those Wichita State teams, man, I mean they were awesome,” Sampson said. “Wichita State is a historic program and it’s been a historic program for a long time, not just when they got to this conference.”

While he won’t likely be back in Wichita again to coach against the Shockers, Sampson will still make his annual trip to Wichita at the end of every March and then drive to Hutchinson to scout the NJCAA national championship tournament at Hutchinson Sports Arena.

“I swear I have spent half of my life sitting in those bleachers at Hutchinson,” Sampson quipped. “I always fly into Wichita and stay in Wichita because I can never get a room in Hutch.”