Kelvin Sampson 2021 39;s wife has 39;bubble39; relationship with UH basketball
Kelvin Sampson Kelvin Sampson has with wife 'bubble' UH 's basketball relationship
Tue, 30 Mar 2021 08:00:00 -0700
INDIANAPOLIS — University of Houston coach Kelvin Sampson reached a career milestone Monday night with his 1,000th game
For many of those, Sampson,
Karen Sampson didn’t get to interact with the Univeristy of Houston basketball team like she normally does, instead staying in her ‘bubble’ because of coronavirus.
She did go to Indianapolis for the NCAA Tournament, however.
The traditional gatherings at the Sampson household have been put on hold because of COVID-19 precautions.
INDIANAPOLIS — University of Houston coach Kelvin Sampson reached a career milestone Monday night with his 1,000th game.
For many of those, Sampson, the 65-year coach of the Final Four-bound Cougars, has been able to look over his shoulder and see his wife, Karen, sitting in the front row of seats.
Through 32 years and five different stops — a journey that has taken them from such outposts as Butte, Montana, Pullman, Wash., Norman, Okla., Bloomington, Ind.
and now the bright city lights of Houston — Karen Sampson has rarely missed a game.
Until this season, when the coronavirus pandemic forced her to make a tough decision and stay away from the basketball team.
That meant no home games or road trips.
No team get-togethers before every home game at the Sampson home, where players walk through the door, give Karen a hug and then rush to grab her freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.
“It’s been different,” said Sampson, whose team will play Baylor in Saturday’s national semifinals at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“She’s always been my rock.
She knows the ins and outs of what we do better than anybody.
If there is one coaches’ wife, I think, that could write a book about being a coaches’ wife and all the experiences you have, it would be her.”
As strict COVID-19 protocols were put in place for this season — everything from regular testing for players and staff to 25-percent capacity at Fertitta Center — Karen Sampson made the decision early to “keep our bubble small” and stay away from the basketball team.
The cookies that Karen Sampson bakes for the University of Houston basketball team before each game are now delivered by coach Kelvin Sampson.
“I knew I was running the risk if I brought (the virus) back to Kelvin,” Karen Sampson said.
“I can’t shut-down this team.
I can’t be the one they trace it back to.
“If I could stay as healthy as I could and away … I was lucky that I was a person I could kind of shut it down.
I didn’t know I was going to be shutting down for a year.”
That meant no in-person basketball games for the first time since the early days when Kelvin Sampson began his head coaching career at Montana Tech in the early 1980s.
At that point, the young couple was living apart as Karen Sampson worked on her nursing degree in Bozeman.
She and 3½-year-old daughter Lauren would make the 170-mile roundtrip through the ice and snow-covered Rocky Mountains for home games.
A few times, the team bus would pick up Karen and Lauren at a gas station on the way to an out-of-town game.
“We hopped on the bus,” she said.
Even through pregnancy with the couple’s second child, Kellen, the top assistant on his dad’s UH staff, made sure not to miss a Montana Tech home game.
“One time we didn’t know what was wrong with me,” Karen Sampson said.
“We didn’t know if I was having a miscarriage; I was in so much pain.
But we’re in the championship game of our own tournament.
I’m going to have to wait.
I sat in those bleachers until the game was over.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, Karen Sampson made 500 masks and sent them back home to friends in Pembroke, N.C., where the Sampsons grew up as members of the Lumbee Nation, a Native American tribe.
She has remained vigilant when she does leave the house.
She shops early in the morning.
Eating at a restaurant is not an option.
The Sampson “bubble” includes Kelvin, Lauren, Kellen and his wife, Tonya, and grandchildren Maisy Jade and Kylen Ned.
“She’s very disciplined, very set in her ways,” Kelvin Sampson said.
“She doesn’t leave that house much.”
Even with precautions there has been a few close calls, most recently when Kelvin Sampson was forced to isolate and miss a Dec.
5 home game against South Carolina following a significant COVID-19 outbreak within the program.
“I thought, we’ll never do that again,” Karen Sampson said of the close 77-67 win.
“One of us is going to a hotel.
Kelvin and Kellen were on the phone the entire game watching the game together.
Kelvin went upstairs.
He came back downstairs.
He walked outside.
I know the neighbor thought he was a lunatic.”
UH coah Kelvin Sampson is now tasked with delivering the cookies that his wife Karen makes before each home game.
Through a 28-3 season, Karen Sampson said she’s watched every game on TV.
“I’m not much better than Kelvin,” Karen Sampson said.
“Everybody knows don’t call me to talk about the game.
If the score looks good, I’ll want to watch.
I’ll maybe turn the sound up.
But if it’s not or it’s a tight game, I’ll catch it later.”
The tradition of hosting the team for dinner and film session goes back to when Kelvin Sampson was coach at Washington State from 1987-94.
As much as the get-togethers were to prepare for a game, the Sampsons used the time to promote a family atmosphere within the program.
The decision not to gather, Karen Sampson said, “threw our night before home games in a tailspin.”
More importantly: What about the cookies? Karen Sampson did not make them for the season opener against Lamar.
“Karen, they asked for the cookies,” Kelvin Sampson told his wife.
“It was a disappointment when he went back and didn’t have them,” she said.
After that first game, the Sampsons worked out a system to ensure delivery of the cookies.
Kelvin Sampson leaves campus in the middle of the afternoon.
The cookies are waiting in plastic bags in a big container.
“I leave practice and drive all the way across town to get them and drive all way the back,” Kelvin Sampson said.
“I try not to be late.
I’ve had some scares because of traffic on (Interstate) 610.
It hasn’t been easy.”
Karen Sampson was on the team bus heading to the American Athletic Conference tournament last March when the postseason, including the NCAA Tournament, was canceled.
That was one of the last times she had seen many of the players, some who have since graduated and moved on, and she had not met this year’s freshmen until early March when she came to campus for COVID-19 testing so she could attend Senior Day, a game the Cougars beat Memphis on a buzzer-beater by freshman Tramon Mark.
Both Kelvin and Karen received their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in February.
Before the start of the NCAA Tournament, Karen Sampson made the decision to come out of the “bubble.” Although she is not among the 34 Tier 1 individuals that are part of UH’s travel party – and have been sequestered at a downtown Indianapolis hotel since arriving March 15 — Karen Sampson has been in the crowd for each of the Cougars’ four wins — Cleveland State, Rutgers, Syracuse and Monday’s night 67-61 victory over Oregon State to advance to the Final Four for the first time since 1984.
She may have missed 26 games this season, but one streak remains intact: she’s never missed any of Kelvin Sampson’s 33 NCAA Tournament games.
Every game, Kelvin Sampson looks for her in the crowd.
“It’s so unusual,” she said.
“He always knows where I’m sitting.
(Now) he doesn’t know.
He starts looking in the crowd.
I’m flagging him down like I’m on an aircraft carrier.
I’m waving, waving.”
Joseph Duarte has been a sports reporter for the Houston Chronicle since August 1996.
He currently covers college athletics, focusing on the University of Houston.
Previously, he wrote about the Houston Astros from 1998-2002, Houston Texans from 2002-05 and the Texas Longhorns from 2005-09.
He came to the Houston Chronicle as part of an internship through the Sports Journalism Institute in 1995.
Kelvin Sampson Kelvin Sampson
Tue, 30 Mar 2021 08:00:00 -0700
– March 30, 2021