Trying to Turn Around the Historical Disaster That Is Rice Basketball

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John Royal
Rice basketball doesn't really have a lot to brag about.
It's a dreary Saturday evening in early December. The 1-6 Rice Owls are hosting the St. Edwards Hilltoppers, a Division II college from Austin. The Hilltoppers are supposed to be a patsy, one of those obscure schools that fill out a schedule so the big school can get the easy win.

The game's a struggle for the Owls, though, as have been all the games this season. The team's undersized, the roster's small and the players aren't quite talented enough to play the full-court fast-break offense preferred by new head coach Mike Rhoades. So he's slowed the game up a bit, with lots of passing and running a slower half-court offense. The Owls get tons of great shots with open looks that players die for. It's just that they miss these shots time and time again, allowing the Hilltoppers to stay in the game.

The Owls eventually pull out the 54-49 win. Sophomore big man Andrew Drone leads the team with 14 points and nine rebounds, and the Owls, heading into the finals break, have their second win of the season. It's not pretty, but it's not about being pretty this season. The Owls will take the win, any win, this season, beauty be damned. Especially after so many of their losses this season have been close and somewhat down to the wire.


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Kelvin Sampson Begins the Biggest Challenge of His Career

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John Royal
Kelvin Sampson watches his team in action last week against Morgan State
An SI.com writer was at Hofheinz Pavilion Saturday night working on a story on new Cougar head coach Kelvin Sampson. He stood in one of the bunkers ringing the top of the arena, looking out over the mostly empty stands. He asked when the crowd was going to show up. Those of us in the local media standing next to him just shook our heads and said he was looking at the crowd, that this was the best it was going to get.

The Cougars won the game, defeating a winless Morgan State program by a 72-57 score. It was only the second game of the season for Houston, and it looked it. The Cougars only shot 32.9 percent from the floor (going only eight for 32 in the second half). When the players were missing badly with shots, they were turning it over with an ease not seen since Matt Schaub suited up for the Texans (23 turnovers for the game). And the free-throw shooting brought back memories of Phi Slama Jama, an era back when the inability to hit free throws probably cost the team a NCAA title.

It was an ugly game to watch. It was an ugly win. But the team pushed the ball up the court at a quick pace and pulled down 60 rebounds, a rebounding figure not seen from a UH basketball team since 1995.

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Rockets Fans, Meet Your New Best Friend: Root Sports Southwest

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Tonight I will leave work after my show is over, I will settle in, fix myself a plate of whatever tasty treats my girlfriend Amy has prepared for dinner, sit down on the couch and do something that I've been unable to do since the end of the 2011-2012 NBA season:

I will watch a local Houston Rockets broadcast from the comfort of my own home!

It almost sounds weird to say it, it's been so long since I've been able to do this, and I feel like Red in Shawshank Redemption. I mean... Bill, Clyde, and Bull, complemented by the dulcet tones of Kevin Eschenfelder and Calvin Murphy on the pre and post game shows.... I mean.... This is the excitement only a free man can feel!

And damn if it isn't a great game on tap tonight as well, a battle between the teams with the two best records in the league, the Rockets and the Memphis Grizzlies!

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Rice Baskeball's Rejuvenated and Ready to Start Anew

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The Rice Owls want you to embrace the uncomfortable.
Mike Rhoades wants his players to embrace the unexpected. He wants them to rise to the challenge. That's how things worked at his former stop, Virginia Commonwealth, where he was assistant coach to Shaka Smart. And now that Rhoades is the man in charge of Rice Owls basketball, he's demanding the same thing.

The practices are faster. The style of play uptempo. The workouts are intense (including Navy Seal training at the start of the school year). The players are working to the point of endurance and past it. The Owls of the past several years have been a team that wilted under player defections and controversy. The atmosphere was poisoned, the morale was low. But Rhoades is seeking to change that attitude, to sweep it away with a new approach to the game.

"I just wanted to 'up' everything," he said on Tuesday. "Their approach, their time, their effort. We want to get to a point where we make our guys very quickly uncomfortable, that they understand that that's where you're going to be a lot, so you might as well get comfortable being uncomfortable."

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Kelvin Sampson Takes Over the Coogs (Just Don't Expect a Tourney Visit This Year)

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The Cougars try to rebuild once again.
The Houston Cougars come into this basketball season with a new coach. They have new players, and supposedly a new culture. But some things never change, and just as with last season, the Cougars are going to lose a lot of games.

Kelvin Sampson's the new guy in charge. The former assistant coach for the Houston Rockets, Sampson's had numerous NCAA stops, getting Oklahoma and Indiana into the NCAA tourney on multiple occasions. But he lost two of the team's best players shortly after he was hired when TaShawn Thomas transferred to Oklahoma and Danuel House transferred to Texas A&M. Another key player, L.J. Rose, has a broken foot and is out for the foreseeable future. And if the season started today, walk-on Wes VanBeck would be seeing major minutes at point guard.

"We're building this program," Sampson said Tuesday. "This year is what it is. We're establishing culture and getting these guys to play the way we want to play. When people see our style of play, they're going to be excited to watch us. This is going to be a fun team to watch. I'm excited about it."

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Just How Houston Are You? Sports Edition

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Just how Houston are you? Do you remember this team?
There was one of those stupid Twitter hashtags things about Houston this week, this one showing just how much of a Houstonian a person really is. I'm tired of writing about the depressing antics of the Houston Astros and CSN Houston, and I had to miss this week's CUSA Football Media Day in Dallas because of work issues. And frankly, I'm much too lazy to come up with something original to write about. So, with a sports theme, here's my version of #ImSoHouston...

1. ...that I remember when the Houston Rockets couldn't even sell out Hofheinz Pavilion.

2. ...that I remember Nolan Ryan pitching for the New York Mets.

3. ...that I remember what it was like to be awed by the best scoreboard spectacle in all sports.

4. ...that when I was a kid, the Houston Cougars played football in a major college football conference and went to major bowl games on a yearly basis.

5. ...that I recall Tal Smith when he was the beloved, recently deposed general manager of a playoff baseball team and not the guy who helped to destroy a winning franchise.

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Stuart Scott's ESPY Speech Receiving the Jimmy V Perseverance Award Brings Down the House (VIDEO)

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Not all that long ago, I was complaining to a buddy of mine with knowledge of the inner workings at ESPN about the "shtick" of some of the anchors/hosts.

Specifically, I told him that I was not a huge fan of Stuart Scott's work and that Chris Berman's gravelly barrage of jokes that were fresh in 1989 made me want to jam a crowbar through my brain. My friend proceeded to tell me that if anyone was going to have to change in my relationship with ESPN, it would be me because those two guys weren't going anywhere.

"Berman and Stu are the most powerful guys in the building," he said.

Let me just say that I'm still trying to reconcile my feelings with the two of them (both are, by all accounts, pretty nice guys, for what it's worth), but I struggle.

As it pertains to Scott, I respect his longevity, I respect his professionalism, I definitely respect his ability to build a brand. I'm just not wild about the brand.

I'm still not, but after last night's ESPY's, I am a huge fan of Stuart Scott the person and Stuart Scott the father.

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Game Show Follies: Jeopardy Contestants Have No Clue on the Big Ten

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YouTube.com
Ah, Jeopardy hijinks.
Of all the sports "things" that are set to debut this fall (a list that includes Jadeveon Clowney, the SEC Network, and A.J. McCarron trying to shoo his Bengal teammates away from his wife), perhaps the one I'm most excited about is Dan Patrick's new Sports Jeopardy show, which is set to debut on Crackle sometime this fall.

(Okay, that's a lie. I am definitely most excited to see Vontaze Burfict wind up with Katherine Webb, but Patrick's show should still be good.)

For those who don't know, Crackle is a Sony-owned digital service available on mobile devices and services such as PlayStation, Xbox, Apple TV and Roku. Until now, its best known programming is probably Jerry Seinfeld's short comedy series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

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2014 Summer Preview: What Will Sustain Us as a Sports Nation?

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Photo by Jennifer Boyer
Summer months are harsh for a sports writer.
The dirty little semi-secret in sports talk radio is that there are many hosts out there who dread the months of June, July, and the first part of August.

Yes, the same time of year to which the rest of the free world counts down like a prisoner approaching their parole date, many in my business abhor, some even fear. For the very reason that you look forward to it (vacation!) is one very big reason that sports talk is a barren wasteland in those months.

Add in the fact that the Astros are working on their fourth consecutive 100-loss season and you can see why some might be fearful of (GASP) having to get creative and maybe even (DOUBLE GASP) talk about something other than sports.

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If Google Elected Athletes to Office, the President Would Be...

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Photo by Keith Allison
Bro hugs, it's what sports is all about.
Before computers ruled our lives, before the Internet connected everyone to everything, relevance was a far more subjective attainment. Stardom was a feel, degrees of which were debatable.

Nowadays, with our ability to measure the relative joy in/admiration for/tolerance of almost anything thanks to Internet analytics, we have measures for relevance. Things like web hits, Twitter trending topics, Facebook "Likes." Self-esteem used to have no statistical measurement. Now it has Twitter followers.

These measurements have become incredibly handy in sports (especially in the content-driven part like radio and blogs), as we can truly see in numerical form which athletes/personalities are moving the needle.

To that end, how about this latest bit of data?

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