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Tuesday, February 22, 2000
Houston, Texas
Volume 65, Issue 100

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Drexler's crew just needs a little time

Sports Opinion

Jason Caesar Consolacion

Did we really expect Clyde Drexler to come to UH, take a basketball program that just about reached rock bottom and turn it into a national championship contender in two years?

Did we really expect one of UH's most celebrated athletes to come in here and model the success of the basketball program around the achievements he reached as a Cougar (and in the NBA) right away?


Freshman sensation George Williams (42) is one of many reasons Cougar fans can be optimistic about the future of UH basketball. 

Max Lacayo/The Daily Cougar

Did we really expect a runner-up MVP candidate to Michael Jordan in 1992, an Olympic gold medalist and one of the 50 greatest players in the history of the NBA, to take over the coaching ranks of the UH men's basketball team and take it to the level of competition where it could compete with the Connecticuts, the DePauls and the Cincinnaties?

Call us spoiled, but really, some of us did.

It's unfair to have expected Drexler to take what he was dealt and turn it into something we all wished for. Of course, it is the intention of Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk, Drexler and his coaching staff to bring the basketball program back to the glory days it enjoyed from the 60s to the mid-'80s.

However, it will take time.

Last week, UH played the No. 1 team in the country -- Cincinnati (the Bearcats have since been dropped to No. 2 after losing to Temple on Saturday).

It was the first time the Cougars hosted a No. 1 team since UH played UCLA in college basketball's first nationally-televised game in front of 52,693 fans in the Astrodome. (Houston, led by Elvin Hayes' 39 points and 15 rebounds, defeated the Bruins 71-69).

Houston fell behind by 20 early in the game, but a late rally in the second half brought the Cougars to within seven points on two occasions, threatening to upset the Bearcats. Drexler's team outscored UC 37-31 in the second half, shooting 49 percent from the floor to Cincinnati's measly 33 percent.

Nevertheless, UH eventually fell 77-65 in one of Drexler's most exciting games during his tenure as the Cougar head coach.

Big deal, right? Actually, it is. You see, one thing the Cougars have accomplished during Drexler's young career as head coach is playing at the level of the competition.

In Drexler's first game, the Cougars beat a decent Texas team 71-69 on Nov. 17, 1998. Drexler's rookie season (10-17) did not go without its problems, however. Not only were the Cougars seven games under .500, but six of the 17 losses were by more than 15 points.

This season, Drexler's Cougars (currently 8-17) have lost by more than 15 only twice. They lost to such national powerhouses as Connecticut by only six, DePaul by only nine and the aforementioned Bearcats by only 12.

"We outplayed the No. 1 team in the nation in the second half," Drexler said after the game. "That's a pretty good effort. We're the one team in our conference, I think, that has the potential to get better every night."

Certainly, many will argue that there really isn't any other direction left for the Cougars to go. Losers of their last seven games, the Cougars need to win three of the last four games of the season to improve from last year's record.

"I think every game is winnable," Drexler said. "We just need to play with a lot of heart and play like (every game is winnable). If we do that, good things will happen."

Drexler is certainly not in any danger of losing his job. Gladchuk wouldn't dare fire one of the University's most celebrated Cougars. But what is at stake in the next few years is the validity of Drexler's hiring.

Next season, the Cougars will be without current seniors Gee Gervin (among C-USA's scoring leaders), Kenny Younger, Derrick Fernandez and Roy Spears. Also gone will be graduate student Early Smith.

All five of these players played roles in the success (albeit minimal success) that Drexler has been able to achieve in the past two years. Gervin, whose future in the NBA continues to look brighter every day, was one of Drexler's first recruits. Younger was a recruit of former coach Alvin Brooks, but has made major strides in his game since Drexler took over.

These players will be missing from next year's team, a fact that torments the spirits of die-hard Cougar fans. However, potential C-USA Freshman of the Year George Williams will return to welcome the coming of such Texas high school standouts as Chris Booker, Justin Lyman, Patrick Okafor and Alton Ford.

Ford is one of the top 10 high school players in the nation. His 6-9, 250-pound frame gives Houston another big presence in the frontcourt to help out Williams. Okafor and Booker are also big men while Lyman is a swingman who plays mostly the small forward position.

Drexler is getting the recruits. His team is showing the beginning signs of capturing that winning attitude. It's not consistent as of yet, but it's getting there.

We can't complain about the job Drexler and his assistants, Reid Gettys, George Walker and Reid Martinka, have done. In fact, it's only just begun. Give the UH men's basketball team two, maybe three more years, and barring any injuries or early exits to the NBA, the Cougars will be one of the top 10 teams in the country.

All that Drexler and the Cougars need is time -- and a little patience from their fans.
 

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