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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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Otu-Umuokpu Anambra USA in Houston Gets New Leadership  

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Houston – TX: The Otu-Umuokpu Anambra USA Association Inc., Headquartered in Houston, Texas, has inaugurated its new executive leadership. An election was held in November 2023 where a set of new executive leadership emerged and was officially sworn-in on February 4, 2024.

Adaeze Stella Icon Adeone Samuel ( Stainless) is now the group’s new President, whereas Adaeze Nkiruka Mbonu ( Mmili doluedo) is the  Vice President.  Former President, Adaeze Dr Maria Elioku (Nkpulunma) remains the President Emeritus. A complete list of the new executive board members will be available on the group’s website, it was gathered.

While welcoming the new leadership team, President Emeritus Dr. Elioku thanked the outgoing executives for their impeccable service during their tenure. “As we all know, our mission as Otu- Umuokpu Anambra, USA Association is to promote and uphold our welfare and culture as well as foster unity, love, and harmony among us; and I am glad that within the past years, we were able to curtail distracting challenges to uphold those values,” she said.

Otu- Umuokpu Anambra, USA Association is a community of all paternal daughters of Anambra State of Nigeria with the core mission to promote and uphold the welfare and culture of her members; and foster unity, love, and harmony among them. The group has since its inception shared the uniformity of their ancestry as a unifying tool for community development and bonding of sisterhood.

For more information about Otu-Umuokpu Anambra, USA Association, Inc., please call 832-640-6329 or click to visit their website >>>>

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Empowerment Conference ULTRA 2024 Returns to Houston February 3rd

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HOUSTON, Texas (January 22nd, 2024) – This coming February, Houstonians are invited to ring in the second month of the year with an empowerment conference that aims to keep attendees on track, accountable, and fully engaged to exceed their personal goals in 2024. The ULTRA Conference 2024 (presented by Ultrashift, Inc., a Houston-area based non-profit organization, and hosted by leadership practitioner and author Dr. Harry Akintola) will take place on Saturday, February 3rd at ACF Center (2204 Sharpview Drive) in west Houston.

As citizens worldwide continue to merge into the new year and prepare for February, their hopes of maintaining new resolutions and goals for career, financial, spiritual, and physical advancement often begin to see signs of inconsistency and shakiness. For Dr. Akinola, that is often the sweet spot and perfect timing to teach individuals and organizations how to master their minds and consciousness to yield prosperity. Since its inception in 2009, ULTRA Conference has impacted the lives of thousands and has hosted this event in many cities around the world, including South Africa (Johannesburg and Cape Town), the United Kingdom (London), Nigeria (Lagos), and Tanzania (Dar es Salaam).

According to event organizers, “Ultra 2024 promises to be an immersive ‘inspiritainment’ experience, driving home the point that the future is not something to be passively anticipated but actively shaped.” All of this year’s conference speakers and panelists are award-winning presenters and specialists from across various industries. Presenters and panelists for this year’s conference include keynote speaker and host Dr. Harry Akinola, JP Morgan Chase Head of CCB Talent Roti Balogun, Zeitios AI/ML Consulting CEO Iyanuoluwa Odebode, Ph.D, Wazobia Market Founder & CEO Tunde Fasina, Hampton HGDS Real Estate Investment Trust CEO Candra Brown, Fairdale Realty & Gazette Mortgage President & CEO Victor Lofinmakin, and Transformational Coach Jimi Tewe.

The conference will be sanctioned into a five-part session each dedicated to a range of topics and interactive activities, including Future-Ready Skills (exploring the critical skills necessary for thriving in tomorrow’s job market and how to acquire them), Embracing AI (a deep dive into practical strategies for integrating artificial intelligence into your business model and career, ensuring you stay ahead of the technological curve), Local & Global Business Strategies (gaining  invaluable insights into Houston’s dynamic business environment as a model for development and learning how to leverage  these strategies on a global scale), Citizenry in Action (learning how civic engagement and personal discipline can become powerful tools for societal change and individual success), Diverse Intelligence (discover how balancing the four intelligences can lead to a more satisfying and successful life), with strategic interactive breakout and networking sessions integrated into all  phases of the conference experience.

As an accomplished corporate executive who has headed up several learning and leadership development organizations in many multinational firms (including Standard Bank, Puma Energy and Chase Bank where he currently serves as Executive Director – Head of Talent, Business Banking), Dr. Akinola hopes that individuals will gain momentum and discipline to follow through on every endeavor set for their lives. “Like a butterfly’s journey from larva to flight, you cannot attain or achieve without first transforming. Ultra 2024 – Re-Imagine Your Future is more than an inspirational and educational conference,” said Dr. Akinola. “It’s an experience, a catalyst for introspection, a reawakening of thought, and a reset of aspirations, guiding you to become, empowering you to do, to have, and to soar towards your envisioned future.” Registration for this year’s conference is now open to the general public. To learn more about the ULTRA Conference 2024 and to register, please visit the official website online at www.theultrashift.org, or follow Dr. Harry Akinola on Instagram at Harry Akinola (@HarryAkinola)

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Council Member Kamin Appointed to Lead National League of Cities’ Large Cities Council

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City of Houston Council Member Abbie Kamin has been appointed Vice-Chair of the National League of Cities (NLC) Large Cities Council. Council Member Kamin was elected to a one-year term to develop and guide programs among local elected officials from similar communities. NLC President Mayor-Elect David Sander of Rancho Cordova, CA announced the appointment.

“I look forward to serving not only Houston, but all of NLC as we bring together our nation’s largest cities in the spirit of partnership, collaboration, and action,” says Council Member Kamin. “I thank NLC and President Mayor-Elect Sander for appointing me as Vice-Chair. We’re ready to get to work!”

As a member of NLC’s Large Cities Council, Council Member Kamin will play a key role among a diverse group of local leaders to encourage collaboration, networking, and the development of resources and programs beneficial to communities that share demographics, size or location that can be replicated across the country.

“Our member councils play an integral role in NLC’s work, bringing local leaders together to share ideas and inform NLC policy about the issues and challenges facing every kind of community in America,” said NLC President Mayor-Elect David Sander of Rancho Cordova, CA. “I’m excited to have Council Member Kamin serve on NLC’s Large Cities Council. The council will ensure that all of our cities, towns and villages have access to ideas and resources they can use to thrive.”

The leadership of this year’s council will consist of Chair Adam Bazaldua, Council Member, Dallas, TX; Vice Chair Wardine Alexander, Council President Pro Tem, Birmingham, AL; and Vice Chair Abbie Kamin, Council Member, Houston, TX.

Kamin also serves on NLC’s Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources Committee where she continues to advocate alongside members for sustainable and resilient solutions for cities.

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