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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.

_______________

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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Education

AIX Founder, Linda Anukwuem Addresses Texas Southern Students on Career Prospects

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“Graduating students must be prepared to reconcile or strike a balance between their values and the culture of the organizations they aspire to. Some corporate cultures require a certain look or presentation to suit specific expectations.”

These are one of the few takeaways when the founder and the Chief Executive Officer of the Houston-based  AIX Firm, LLC., Linda Anukwuem visited the  School of Communication (SOC) of Texas Southern University (TSU) on October 31, 2022.

Ms.  Anukwuem addressed the Media Marketing and Management class of Radio, Television, and Films (RTF) students on career choices and prospects, sharing relevant workforce preparation tips. “It has always been my intention to share this information with students to enable them to get prepared for the ever-challenging corporate arena,” said Ms.  Anukwuem, who is also an Executive Consultant with Quanten Consortium Angola, LLC.,  a global oil and gas exploration firm.

Before joining Quanten Consortium Angola, LLC., Ms. Anukwuem served as the Chair for the City of Houston’s Mayor’s International Trade & Development Council for Africa (MITDC-Africa) under Mayor Annise Parker as well as chaired the Arts, Culture and Community Relations Committee.

In the lecture-themed “Processional Prospects”, Ms. Anukwuem addressed the Importance of networking and how good interaction could invoke viable spaces that can create a successful path to success.  Ms. Anukwuem also discussed the distractive challenges of the career journey. “Every failure became a lesson learned to prepare for the next opportunity,” she advised.

Special guest, Linda Anukwuem (left) and class professor, Dr. Anthony Ogbo

The class professor, Dr. Anthony Ogbo described the lecture as “a perfect fit” for students who are eager to learn about better career prospects. “Sharing real-world workforce realities is a major part of our course objectives and teaching standards, and this event dovetails that purpose,”   Dr. Ogbo said.

Linda attended the University of Houston, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology. In her professional career, she worked as an accountant with Bracewell & Guiliani, LLP, and United Airlines. Because of her hard work and professional acumen, she was featured in the eighth edition of Who’s Who in Black Houston.

TSU’s  School of Communication, originally established in 1975 and consisting of Journalism, Telecommunications, Speech, Theatre, and Communicative Disorders, was reduced to a single department in 1979 in response to university-wide management efficiency and cost containment concerns.

TSU’s Radio, Television, and Film program prepare students for the production and critical studies of radio, television, film, and new media, offering them a balanced curriculum that provides integrated study and training in the art and business of electronic media.

For a tour of the School of Communication facilities, contact Kevin Adams (kevin.adams@tsu.edu), Assistant Dean for Student Services 713-313-7408

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Health

Houston Health care clinic and home health owners sentenced for fraud

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Alatan was the owner of Colony Home Health Services, while Ekene was the owner of Milten Medical Clinic, both businesses located in Houston.

HOUSTON, TX — Two individuals have been ordered to federal prison following their convictions of conspiracy to commit and committing health care fraud, announced U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery.

A federal jury convicted Francis Ekene, 71, Sugar Land, on all counts following a three-day trial.

Today, U.S. District Judge Sim Lake imposed a 120-month-term of imprisonment to be immediately followed by three years of supervised release. In handing down the prison term, Judge Lake noted that despite his health issues, it was important for him to serve his punishment.

Also convicted at trial was Alfred Olotin Alatan, 63, formerly of Houston and now residing in Fulshear. He was previously sentenced to 120 months in prison.

Alatan was the owner of Colony Home Health Services, while Ekene was the owner of Milten Medical Clinic, both businesses located in Houston.

At trial, the jury heard that Alatan paid recruiters to bring patient information to be billed for home health services regardless of whether they needed it or not. Beneficiaries testified in trial and admitted they did not need home health services at the time the health care service providers billed them.

Additional testimony revealed a doctor had signed off on plan of care forms at the Milton Clinic when patients were not actually under his care.

Previous employees Susana Bermudez and Rita Kpotie Smith also testified. Bermudez admitted she and Smith operated both clinics and that Alatan was the leader of the scheme. Both Alatan and Ekene would consult Bermudez and Smith who directed them and provided assistance in carrying out the scheme within both offices.

At trial, the defense attempted to convince the jury they were not involved in the daily operations and did not know the provided services were unnecessary and fraudulent.

Alatan and Ekene were permitted to remain on bond and voluntarily surrender to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

Bermudez and Smith, both 55, and of Houston, previously pleaded guilty to their roles as co-conspirators in the scheme. Bermudez is currently serving 30 months in federal prison, while Smith is serving is serving a 60-month sentence.

The Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General conducted the investigation with the assistance of the FBI. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Tina Ansari and Grace Murphy prosecuted the case along with paralegal Judith Cardona assisted with the case.

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Houston

Atiku, Okowa, Other PDP Leaders Storm Houston for Diaspora Summit

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Facilitated by the Diasporans for PDP, the summit would also provide a fertile ground for the organisers to strategize on moving the party forward ahead of 2023.

Ahead of the 2023 general elections, Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, his running mate, Ifeanyi Okowa, and a host of party leaders would on October 29, 2022, grace the Diaspora Summit in Houston, Texas, United States of America.

The event would enable the candidates to speak to the diaspora community about their plans for the nation as well as strategies for winning the elections.

Hon. Pamugo: “The theme of this summit is ‘Getting It Right Now’ and by this, we want to send a strong message to our beloved Nigerians that the PDP will get it right this time.”

Facilitated by the Diasporans for PDP, the summit would also provide a fertile ground for the organisers to strategize on moving the party forward ahead of 2023.

Speaking exclusively to media, Hon. (Mrs) Victoria Pamugo, a former PDP Chairperson Houston Texas Branch and Founder/National Chairperson, of the group, said party members from various parts of the world would participate in the summit, which she said, is primarily focused on getting the party heads to the election as a united body with the sole desire of rescuing Nigerians from the clutches of “the incompetent All Progressives Congress.”

Hon. Pamugo, who is also member, PDP 2021 National Convention Council, Electoral Subcommittee said: “The theme of this summit is ‘Getting It Right Now’ and by this, we want to send a strong message to our beloved Nigerians that the PDP will get it right this time. A PDP-led government will reposition this nation and make us part of the productive global economy.

“Apart from Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Senator Ifeanyi Okowa; our National Chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, National Secretary, Samuel Anyanwu, spokesperson, Debo Ologunagba, PDP Senate caucus leader, Philip Aduda, minority leader of the House of Representatives, Ndudi Elumelu and many others are expected to grace the event.”

Apart from Mrs Pamugo, other PDP members in the Diasporan community billed to attend the summit are Chidi Igwe (Canada), Theodore Igwe (United States), Tony Adiele (The Netherlands) and Farouk Suleiman (United Kingdom).

Two days ago, The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), flagged off its presidential campaign in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. The presidential campaign, held at the Nest of Champions Stadium, Uyo, was attended by party leaders and members across all categories, including former presidents.

This event is completely free but requires registration.  To register, please visit: www.diasporansforpdp.com

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