Basketball Wiki
Houston Cougars
Houston Cougars.jpg
School Name: University of Houston
Location: Houston, Texas
Arena: Fertitta Center
Capacity: 7,035
Conference: The American
Head coach: Kelvin Sampson

The Houston Cougars men's basketball team represents the University of Houston in Houston, Texas in U.S. NCAA Division I men's basketball competition. The university is a member of the American Athletic Conference. The team last played in the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament in 2021, and are tied for 15th in number of Final Four appearances.


Early history (1946-56)

File:First Houston Cougars basketball team 1946.jpg

The first Houston Cougars men's basketball team in 1946

Although the University of Houston already had a women's basketball program, the Houston Cougars men's basketball program didn't begin until the 1945-1946 season. During their first two seasons, the team won the Lone Star Conference regular season title, and made it to post season play in the NAIA Men's Basketball tournament. The team also appeared in back to back years of 1946, 1947. The Cougars had an all time NAIA tournament record of 2-2 in 2 years.

Guy Lewis era (1956-86)

Clyde Drexler performs a slam dunk as a member of the Houston Cougars men's basketball team under Lewis

Pasche retired after the 1955-56 season, and Houston assistant Guy Lewis was promoted to the head coaching position. Lewis, a former Cougar player, led Houston to 27 straight winning seasons and 14 seasons with 20 or more wins, including 14 trips to the NCAA Tournament. His Houston teams made the Final Four on five occasions (1967, 1968, 1982–84) and twice advanced to the NCAA Championship Game (1983, 1984). Among the outstanding players who Lewis coached are Elvin Hayes, Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, Otis Birdsong, Dwight Jones, Don Chaney and "Sweet" Lou Dunbar.

Lewis's UH teams twice played key roles in high-profile events that helped to popularize college basketball as a spectator sport. In 1968, his underdog, Elvin Hayes-led Cougars upset the undefeated and top-ranked UCLA Bruins in front of more than 50,000 fans at Houston’s Astrodome. Most importantly, it was the first nationally-televised college basketball game. The game became known as the “Game of the Century” and marked a watershed in the popularity of college basketball. In the early 1980s, Lewis's Phi Slama Jama teams at UH gained notoriety for their fast-breaking, "above the rim" style of play as well as their overall success. These teams attracted great public interest with their entertaining style of play. At the height of Phi Slama Jama's notoriety, they suffered a dramatic, last-second loss in the 1983 NCAA Final that set a then-ratings record for college basketball broadcasts and became an iconic moment in the history of the sport. Lewis's insistence that these highly successful teams play an acrobatic, up-tempo brand of basketball that emphasized dunking brought this style of play to the fore and helped popularize it amongst younger players.

Houston lost in both NCAA Final games in which Lewis coached, despite his "Phi Slama Jama" teams featuring superstars Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon. In 1983, Houston lost in a dramatic title game to the North Carolina State Wolfpack on a last-second dunk by Lorenzo Charles. The Cougars lost in the 1984 NCAA Final to the Georgetown Hoyas, led by Patrick Ewing. Lewis retired from coaching in 1986 at number 20 in all-time NCAA Division I victories, his 592-279 record giving him a .680 career winning percentage.

As a coach, Lewis was known for championing the once-outlawed dunk, which he characterized as a "high percentage shot", and for clutching a brightly-colored red and white polka dot towel on the bench during games. Lewis was a major force in the racial integration of college athletics in the South during the 1960s, being one of the first major college coaches in the region to actively recruit African-American athletes. His recruitment of Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney in 1964 ushered in an era of tremendous success in Cougar basketball. The dominant play of Hayes led the Cougars to two Final Fours and sent shock waves through Southern colleges that realized that they would have to begin recruiting black players if they wanted to compete with integrated teams.

Welcome to Conference USA (1996-98)

After 21 years in the Southwest Conference, the Cougars joined Conference USA in 1996. Under head coach Alvin Brooks, the basketball program had a disappointing initial season in C-USA. The team went 3-11 against C-USA teams in 1996-97. The next season was even more futile. Brooks, who had led the Cougars since 1993, coached the Cougars to a rock bottom conference record of 2-14 in 1997-98. The last, and only other, time the Cougars recorded only two conference victories in a season was in 1950-51; their first season in the Missouri Valley Conference.

Return to glory? (1998-2000)

One of Houston's biggest sports icons and one of the Cougars best basketball players ever, Clyde Drexler was hired to coach the program that he led as a player to the 1983 NCAA Final as part of Phi Slama Jama. Basketball excitement was back on campus, and fans looked forward to the promising years to come. After just two seasons however, Drexler resigned as head coach to spend more time with his family.

Striving for success (2000-04)

Ray McCallum was hired to do what Clyde Drexler could not—lead the Cougars to a winning season and earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament. After losing seasons in each of his first two years, McCallum guided the Cougars to a 18-15 record in 2001-02. That season, the team won two conference tournament games and qualified for the National Invitation Tournament. However, the team regressed in the following season and failed to qualify for their own C-USA tournament.

Two steps forward, one step back (2004-07)


Tom Penders was named as the head coach of Cougars basketball in 2004. Known as "Turnaround Tom" for his reputation of inheriting sub-par basketball programs and making them better, Penders was hired to rebuild a program that recorded only one winning season in its last eight years. After a surprising debut season in 2004-05 that led to an NIT appearance, the team had high hopes to build on their relative success and make the NCAA Tournament in 2006.


The 2005-06 season looked promising at the outset. The Cougars started their first game on a 30-0 scoring run against the Florida Tech Panthers. Less than two weeks later, the Cougars beat the nationally ranked LSU Tigers on the road and the Arizona Wildcats at home. The surprising wins earned the Cougars their first national ranking in several years. The team that seemed destined for an NCAA Tournament berth failed to capitalize on their success and national recognition and began to stumble after a loss to South Alabama Jaguars in December. The Cougars won only one conference tournament game and had to settle again for another NIT bid.


Dubbed as "The Show," the 2006-07 Cougars entered the season with cockiness and strong expectations to finally make it into the NCAA Tournament. A difficult schedule matched the Cougars with seven different teams that would end up qualifying for either the 2007 NCAA Tournament or NIT. Houston lost three times to the Memphis Tigers and once each to Arizona, the Creighton Bluejays, the Kentucky Wildcats, South Alabama, the UNLV Runnin' Rebels, and the VCU Rams. By going 0-9 against these quality teams, the Cougars proved they were not worthy of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Not surprisingly, two conference tournament wins against lower seeds and an unimpressive 18-15 overall record were not even enough to earn the team an invitation to the NIT.

Team goal: NCAA Tournament (2007−)

File:Houston Cougars vs Valpo Crusaders CBI 2008.jpg

The Houston Cougars at the 2008 CBI

With a slightly new nickname ("The Show—In 3D") and slightly new uniform (a changed trim design), the 2007-08 Cougars hoped to build on their mediocre prior season and reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1992. Eight straight home games from November 21 to December 29 helped the Cougars get off to a 11-1 start. However, the team lost most of its critical games at the end of the season, including their last two games (both against the UTEP Miners).

Their post-season hopes were not altogether dashed, however. Houston received an invitation to the inaugural College Basketball Invitational tournament and defeated the Nevada Wolf Pack and the Valparaiso Crusaders but lost to their conference rival, the Tulsa Golden Hurricane, in the semifinal round.


The 2008-09 season began on November 11 with a two point loss to the Georgia Southern Eagles; this was the first game of the Division I college basketball season and the opening game of the 2K Sports Classic tournament in Durham, North Carolina. A Cougars win would have meant a second round matchup with the Duke Blue Devils.

In December, the Cougars traveled over 1,300 miles (their farthest scheduled trip of the season) to Toledo, Ohio for a rare match-up against the Toledo Rockets at Savage Hall.

Overall, the Cougars played a balanced home and away regular season schedule. Fifteen games (three in November, three in December, four in January, three in February, and two in March) were played at Hofheinz Pavilion. Fourteen games (two in November, two in December, five in January, and five in February) were played away from Hofheinz.

2009-10: Mission Accomplished

At first glance, it looked like the 2009-10 season would continue the Cougars' recent string of mediocrity, as they finished the regular season 15-15 and 7-9 in C-USA, only good for seventh place in the conference.

However, it seems the Cougars saved their best for the tourney. Following a 93-80 win over the East Carolina Pirates in the first round, the Cougars stunned previous C-USA juggernaut the Memphis Tigers 66-65, ending a string of four tournament titles for the Tigers. These heroics would extend into the semifinals, where they defeated the Southern Miss Golden Eagles 74-66. Finally, the Cougars capped off their Cinderella run with an 81-73 upset over the #25-ranked UTEP Miners, proving the third season the charm in their mission and finally clinching a bid in the NCAA Tournament, their first since 1992. In the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Houston, seeded 13th, was defeated 89–77 by the 4th-seeded Maryland Terrapins.

Penders announced his resignation as Houston head coach on March 22, 2010.[1]

Recent records

As American Athletic Conference member
Season Overall record* American tournament record Postseason record Head coach
2014–15 13–19 (4–14) 1–1; lost in quarterfinals N/A Kelvin Sampson
2015–16 22–10 (12–6) 0–1; lost in quarterfinals 0–1 in NIT Kelvin Sampson
2016–17 21–11 (12–6) 0–1; lost in quarterfinals 0–1 in NIT Kelvin Sampson
2017–18 27–8 (14–4) 2–1; lost in finals 1–1 in NCAA Kelvin Sampson
2018–19 33–4 (16–2) 2–1; lost in finals 2–1 in NCAA Kelvin Sampson
2019–20 23–8 (13–5) No American Conference or national tournaments due to COVID-19 Kelvin Sampson
2020–21 28–4 (14–3) 3–0; won championship 4–1 in NCAA Kelvin Sampson

* Overall record includes regular season and tournament/postseason results; Regular season conference record contained in parentheses

Postseason play

NCAA Men's Division I Tournament bids

Total Bids Last Bid Last Win Last Sweet 16 Last Elite 8 Last Final 4 Last Championship Game Last Championship
22 2021 2021 2021 2021 2021 1984 Never

National Invitation Tournament bids

Total Bids Last Bid Last Win Last Quarterfinal Last Semifinal Last Championship Game Last Championship
11 2017 2006 1977 1977 1977 Never

College Basketball Invitational bids

Total Bids Last Bid Last Win Last Quarterfinal Last Semifinal Last Championship Series Last Championship
3 2013 2013 2008 2008 Never Never

Notable players

  • Cadillac Anderson
  • Otis Birdsong
  • Armoni Brooks
  • Don Chaney†‡
  • Dwight Davis
  • Dion Dowell
  • Clyde Drexler
  • Rolando Ferreira
  • Alton Ford
  • Anthony Goldwire
  • Quentin Grimes
  • Joe Hamood
  • Elvin Hayes
  • Carl Herrera
  • Nate Hinton
  • Danuel House
  • DeJon Jarreau
  • Damon Jones
  • Dwight Jones
  • Leary Lentz
  • Ted Luckenbill
  • Sam Mack
  • Larry Micheaux
  • Hakeem Olajuwon
  • Bo Outlaw
  • Andre Owens
  • Gary Phillips
  • George Reynolds
  • Ken Spain
  • Ollie Taylor
  • Rob Williams
  • Rickie Winslow
  • Michael Young

† Played in the National Basketball Association (current players in bold)

‡ Played in the American Basketball Association

Retired numbers

The Cougars have retired the numbers of five men's basketball players: Otis Birdsong, Clyde Drexler, Elvin Hayes, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Michael Young.

File:Clyde Drexler UH retired number.jpg
File:Hakeem Olajuwon UH retired number.jpg
File:Michael Young UH retired number.jpg
File:Elvin Hayes UH retired number.jpg

See also

  • Game of the Century
  • Guy V. Lewis
  • Phi Slama Jama

External Links

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