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Houston is back in the Final Four, primed to end a streak of truly bad luck

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INDIANAPOLIS — They danced, they laughed, Kelvin Sampson gave his kids hugs. Houston was one band of happy Cougars to be back in the Final Four this week. Of course, the program has been there before, quite some time ago.

It didn’t end well.

Five times it didn’t end well. In fact, you could make the case that few programs have had a more star-crossed Final Four history than Houston, which now has a chance to vastly improve on that situation. Illinois and Oklahoma are the only other schools who have been to as many as five Final Fours and are yet to win a title. If the current Cougars lose next weekend, they will stand alone at six.

Houston beat Oregon State in the Elite Eight

And it’s just not the record, but how it’s happened. They have had meaty roles for two of the most famous Final Four games in history — as the victims. In their five past trips they somehow managed to run into Kareem Abdul-Jabbar . . . and Michael Jordan . . . and Patrick Ewing. A wall of Hall of Famers for Houston to beat its collective heads against.

But let’s start at the beginning.

1967 — Timing is everything, and the Cougars didn’t have it. They advanced to their first Final Four and who should be waiting for them but one of the greatest teams in history; unbeaten UCLA with Lew Alcindor – later Abdul-Jabbar — in his first season of steamrolling college basketball.

The Houston players had an idea of what they were in for the day prior to the game, when they were sitting in their hotel lobby pretty much to themselves and in strolled the Bruins, surrounded by a gaggle of fans and media. UCLA arrived like rock stars, while the Cougars, Don Chaney would say years later, “felt like country bumpkins.”

The next day, Alcindor had 19 points and 20 rebounds and UCLA breezed to a 15-point victory.

1968 — Houston ended UCLA’s 47-game winning streak by two points in the Astrodome in a made-for-TV January spectacular that was instantly billed The Game of the Century. Two months later they were together again in the Final Four in Los Angeles, with the Cougars unbeaten and No. 1 and the Bruins with only that one loss. It was the rematch everyone wanted, and the nation settled back to watch college basketball’s version of Frazier vs. Ali.

What the nation got was more like an accountant vs. Ali. The first bad sign for Houston was when its student manager – selling leftover tickets from the team allotment outside the arena as coach Guy Lewis had requested – was arrested by LA police, taken to jail and charged with scalping.

It wasn’t any more pleasant inside the building for the players. Alcindor had a scratched cornea in the January meeting but was at full speed for the rematch, and he and the rest of the Bruins had a message to send. It ended 101-69. Houston star Elvin Hayes, who had vexed the Bruins with 39 points in January, was held to 10, nearly 28 points under his average.

Lewis called it then “the greatest exhibition of basketball I have ever seen in my life.” A lot of people could say that.

1982 — More than 61,000 people were in the Superdome audience when Houston took on North Carolina, which included stars such as Sam Perkins and James Worthy, and a freshman named Jordan. As was their custom back then, the Tar Heels got the lead and then four-cornered the Cougars into oblivion, 68-63.

1983 — The one that haunts the most. Phi Slama Jama was all the rage, as the high-flying Cougars soared into the national championship game by beating Louisville in a 94-81 dunkathon in the semifinals. The media immediately dubbed that game 21st century basketball, and all that was left for No. 1 Houston was to finish off a 10-loss team from North Carolina State that barely eked into the tournament.

The Wolfpack dictated a slow tempo in this pre-shot clock era, but the Cougars put together a 17-2 run for a late seven-point lead. Then Houston started missing free throws, North Carolina State rallied and had the ball in the final seconds in a 52-52 tie. Guard Dereck Whittenburg put up a desperation 30-foot shot with four seconds left that was way short and . . . you might know the rest. They do in Houston. Lorenzo Charles was waiting under the basket to grab the errant shot and slammed it home with one second left. Phi Slama Jama had lived by the dunk, and died by the dunk. The scene of North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano running wildly around the court gets replayed every spring as an iconic and wonderful tournament moment – except for the team he had just beaten.

For hollow consolation, Houston’s Akeem later-to-be-Hakeem Olajuwon was named Most Outstanding Player, and 38 years later, is still the last member of a losing team to be so.

1984 — There was enough left over of Phi Slama Jama — especially Olajuwon — that Houston returned to the national title game. But the Cougars ran into Ewing and Georgetown’s defense and lost 84-75. The golden days were over. Houston would not win another NCAA tournament game for 34 years.

The Cougars’ special brand of Final Four pain can be measured with numbers. They are one of only four programs to go to three consecutive Final Fours and not win any of them. UCLA, Ohio State and North Carolina are also in that club, but those three all have national championships from other years. Houston is also one of four programs to lose consecutive title games — with Cincinnati, Michigan and Butler.

But maybe another number explains how tough it has been for the Cougars, because the opponent has a lot to do with fate. Take away the North Carolina State fairy tale, and the four other teams Houston lost to in the Final Four had a combined record of 118-6 when they met

 

So now here the Cougars are again 37 years later, and Sampson is telling stories about how much he wishes his parents were alive to see this. And about the Sweet 16 in 2002 when he was coaching at Oklahoma, and how he was in the hospital until 4 a.m. the day of the game waiting for his father to come out of surgery with a brain aneurysm. Those Sooners would eventually get to the Final Four. And how his old boss at Oklahoma, athletics director Joe Castiglione sent Sampson a big package when he got the job at Houston. Inside the package was a ladder to both symbolize Sampson’s career climb and the hope he would be needing it to cut down nets in the future.

Final Four: Here’s what the world was like last time Baylor made it

This Houston team has nothing like the glamour of Phi Slama Jama or the Elvin Hayes bunch that took down UCLA in the middle of the Astrodome. “We may not have the brightest lights,” Sampson said, “but our lights shine as bright as anybody else’s.”

These Cougars now have a chance to do what those Houston teams could not. And if it doesn’t turn out, if there is defeat at the end for a sixth time?

Well, it’s not a bad legacy for a program to have, losing lots of Final Four games.

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Culled from the NCAA.COM. Writer, Mike Lopresti is a member of the US Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, Ball State journalism Hall of Fame and Indiana Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame. He has covered college basketball for 43 years, including 39 Final Fours. He is so old he covered Bob Knight when he had dark hair and basketball shorts were actually short.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NCAA or its member institutions.

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Texas Southern partners with IgboFest to promote education, culture, and diversity

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IgboFest Houston, a cultural entity and festival that showcases the African heritage and Igbo culture to the great city of Houston has partnered with the Texas Southern University (TSU) to promote, embrace, and encourage culture, and diversity education in the community.

TSU will be visibly present at this festival to showcase their potentials as an inclusive, equitable, and welcoming institution for all members of the community. Internationally renowned TSU’s Debate Team will also be at this event to perform the “Igbo Landing Mass Suicide of 1803”, a rendition of one of the largest mass suicides of enslaved people that took place when Igbo captives from what is now Nigeria were taken to the coast of Georgia.

According to Dr. Chris Ulasi, TSU’s acting Dean of the School of Communications who also chairs the Houston IgboFeast, “This partnership is highly needed and most importantly, would reflects the mission of the IgboFest in building cultural awareness, linguistic diversity through teaching and learning of critically endangered languages, and youth cultural literacy.”

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Texas Southern University President Dr. Lesia L. Crumpton-Young. Texas Southern University, one of the nation’s largest HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), possesses an impressive array of undergraduate and graduate programs, a diverse faculty, and 80-plus student organizations.

IgboFest Houston has reigned for decades in the City, bringing in performers from across the United States and globally. The 2022 IgboFest will showcase the  Ijele Masquerade, classified as the biggest masquerade in Sub-Saharan Africa. Group performances will range from traditional to acrobatic dancers, whereas other displays will involve very rare masquerades from the Igboland. Expected at this event are; Government representatives including Houston’s Mayor, Sylvester Turner, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Congressman Al Green, Texas Hour Rep. Jarvis Johnson, and others.

This colorful carnival which also is the largest African cultural festival in the City will hold at the Discovery Green – 1500 McKinney on Saturday, July 16, 2022. Admission is free. Bringing the African heritage and indeed the Igbo culture to the most diverse city in America is traditionally motivating and spiritually authentic.

Texas Southern University, one of the nation’s largest HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), possesses an impressive array of undergraduate and graduate programs, a diverse faculty, 80-plus student organizations, and an alumni network comprised of educators, entrepreneurs, public servants, lawyers, pilots, artists, and more, many of whom are change agents on the local, national and international stage.

For more information, please call 281-788-8133  or  832-452-7784

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Houston’s Emancipation Park Bubbles with Juneteenth Festival Excitement

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Saturday, June 18, and Sunday, June 19, 2022.  Sizzling temperatures rising to triple digits, humidity at its highest, and this spectacular Juneteenth festive celebration is on in Houston, Texas. Just the kind of vibe Houstonians needed to balance the heat.  From memory lane to everyday sing-along lyrics, be it cultural, social, historical, or contemporary, Kool and the Gang, The Isley Brothers, Sheila Escovedo, aka Sheila E., and Maze, featuring Frankie Beverly all projected a dynamic type of energy and synergy that surpassed the heat.

Multi-colored flashing stage lights. Action begins with the world renown R&B group Kool and the Gang entering the main stage showing off their funky and jazzy appearance—old school/new school.  Horns playing softly in the background, lead singer proudly welcomes the audience, then gives a brief historic account of their humble beginnings. Being the longest performing R&B group in history, and the most sampled R&B band of all times; JT naming each player as an original with the group, dating back to 1969 when they officially assigned their name as Kool and the Gang; group, album, and song all called Kool and the Gang.  This high energy performance certainly reflects the message in their music. “Celebrate good times! Come on! It’s a celebration. Everyone around the world . . . Come on! Cel-a-bra-tion!”  This signature line had the audience on their feet, rocking to the beat, and echoing every word.

Congress Woman, The Honorable Sheila Jackson-Lee, and Houston’s Mayor Sylvester Turner dancing to Kool and the Gang while celebrating good times on the VIP pavilion.

Like a shepherd with his staff tending to his sheep was Ron Isley with his cane entering the stage, capturing the crowd, singing their 1978 classic, Groove With You. And the audience swinging side-to-side, singing along, and . . . grooving.  This epic old-schooler slows it down, calling out the “Choosey Lovers.”

Day 2—Sunday, June 19, 2022

But Houstonians were not only grooving with the musical artists, among many others was one political rock star, Beto O’Rourke -candidate for Texas Governor immersing in all the festivities at the Juneteenth Celebration at the Emancipation Park 150th Anniversary.

This multi-ethnic, multi-talented diva is ‘multi’ with a sense of ‘purpose’ from all angles; she sings, plays, and dances to multi-genre music. With the mic in her hand, rocking to the background instrumentals, Sheila educates the audience of her Mexican Indian father and Creole mother.  Soaked in a medley of instrumentals, she signaled to the musicians to halt.  She then commands the keys, and each musician strikes accordingly.  As a woman of the Christian faith, not only did she sing, danced, and played the guitar and drum to secular and gospel music, she also gave a chilling testimony about surviving childhood molestation at the age of five.  Her statement shows in her performance: “Music is love, God is love and God is music.”  She talked about her faith in God.  Being a believer who sings secular music, but loves Jesus, she said, “I bring church to the people. My ministry is ‘Abuse’.”  She uses her voice to bring out the best in people. At 64 plus, going non-stop about 70 minutes in her performance decided to take the guitar off stage to engage directly with the audience.  It was just about sunset and the temperature was cooling down when she asked everyone to stand in solidarity with her in ‘passing the love.’  In obedience to Sheila’s request, the audience stood up, and as instructed, each person telling as many around them, “I love you.”  This sacred moment was followed by Sheila passing the love with the song “What the world needs now is love sweet love.”

Maximum security. Houston Police Department standing at attention at work.

Frankie Beverly greeting Houston with his favorite line: “Long time nuh see!”

The grand finale! With the volume pumped up, stepping on stage in style is the distinguished legend, Frankie Beverly starting off with one of his greatest hits, ‘Laid Back Kind of Girl’, then he serenades the ladies with “Southern Girl”, followed by “We Are One,” and the rest of the show was a rap.  Pausing, Frankie in his rhythmic posture, dancing from within, points the microphone to the audience, drums, keys, strings, and chords on medium sound, and the audience on one accord becomes the loudest voice, singing to Frankie’s all-time classics.  So then, what do you say about this artist who enters the stage with such an effect? Yes! Vintage, classical, and mystical is Maze/Frankie Beverly with countless recordings, performances, and awards on the global stage for more than 50 years.

______________________________________

Interesting facts about Emancipation Park.  November 7, 2007, a remarkable act took place when the Houston City Council declared the park a historic landmark after it voted unanimously.  On April 24, 2019, United Nations Education Scientific Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Emancipation Park as a UNESCO Site of Memory.

Mission of Emancipation Park—To enhance Emancipation Park by preserving its integrity and enriching its heritage as a local, state, national, and international landmark. (For more information visit https://epconservancy.org)

In a brief conversation with Ramon Manning, Chairman of the Board of Directors, I asked, “What is the ‘Why’ behind this celebration?” Ramon responded, “This festive event goes beyond food, fun, fellowship. There is an educational aspect that educates generations about historic, cultural, and social issues that are embedded in American history. Often, there are stories about the struggles that the slaves encountered, but there were also countless untold victories, one of which is about the group of former slaves who pooled together the funding and purchased the property where the park is located.”  Another question I asked was, “And what value does this all bring to the community?” He answered, “This community park is an asset to Houston, Texas, and American history.  It stands significant to recognizing and acknowledging culture, history, and continuing education.”

♦The Guardian News would like to express sincere thanks to Michelle Kelly and Tara Hanney of Kelney Communications for such remarkable hospitality and accommodation

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OMG—Houston selected to host 2026 FIFA World Cup matches

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The city of Houston, Texas was selected by FIFA as one of the host cities for the 2026 FIFA World Cup that is being hosted by the United States, Mexico, and Canada. NRG Stadium, the home of the Houston Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, will be the venue in Houston for the world’s largest sporting event. Details are still to come on what games and how many will be held in Houston. We won’t know for a few more years who will be playing here.

Houston joins the cities below as hosts for the 2026 World Cup. The United States will have most of the tournament games with matches also being held in Canada and Mexico.

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