Late Wednesday afternoon, we got something of a Woj-grenade relating to the Bucks’ ongoing head coaching search, with the news that University of Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson interviewed for the opening:
ESPN Sources: University of Houston coach Kelvin Sampson interviewed for the Milwaukee Bucks’ coaching job. https://t.co/1dWiO8ahQ3— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) May 17, 2023
Longtime Bucks fans may remember that Sampson was on Milwaukee’s bench way back from 2008–11 on Scott Skiles’ staff. That came after over two decades in the college ranks, where he certainly made a name for himself. If you’ve been a fan of the NCAA at any point since the 80s, you’ve likely watched his teams play. He was most notable for his stint at Oklahoma from 1996–2006, taking the Sooners to the NCAA tournament in all but one of those ten seasons including a Final Four appearance in 2002.
That landed him a plum job with one of college basketball’s legendary programs at Indiana, but he only lasted two years there. Due to major recruiting violations, he was suspended and slapped with a five-year show-clause order, effectively making him unemployable by any program until 2013. He filled that time by jumping to the NBA, with the Bucks for three years and Rockets for another three. With his sanction completed, he stayed in Houston but pivoted back to the NCAA to take over the University of Houston’s storied program. He revitalized the Cougars to the tune of a 232-74 record, a no. 1 ranking for much of last season, and made the last five NCAA tournaments, peaking with a Final Four in 2021.
For all that experience, you’d expect him to be older than 67, but far from the young and fresh candidate that some fans are hoping for. No doubt Sampson has a long track record of collegiate success, both historically and recently. He’s only sent a few players to the NBA, with just New York’s Quentin Grimes still active. Whether any of that bears at all on his ability to run a team at the pro level is questionable. Offering a thought as to “why?,” Woj reports that Sampson and GM Jon Horst have “history and a relationship” given that the latter was a Bucks’ front office staffer during the former’s tenure.
Recent college coaches who have made the leap to the big leagues don’t have a good track record. Brad Stevens is perhaps the only success story upon his promotion from Butler to Boston, but Billy Donovan (Florida to OKC) hasn’t fared as well. Former Michigan coach John Beilein barely got through half the season with Cleveland in 2020. Former NBA sharpshooter and Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg spent just over three forgettable years in Chicago before being dismissed, later heading to Nebraska.
Who knows if this goes anywhere, but for now this is the eleventh candidate whom the Bucks are reported to be interested in, and the ninth they have interviewed or will interview. We’ll keep you abreast of any other names that come out until a hire is made.
UPDATE: I missed this Woj-pop rock right before the news of Sampson came out, but the Bucks also interviewed Wizards’ assistant Joseph Blair for the opening:
The Milwaukee Bucks interviewed Washington Wizards assistant Joseph Blair for the franchise’s coaching job, sources tell ESPN. Blair won a 2019 G League title with Rio Grande Valley before advancing as an NBA assistant with the Wizards, Timberwolves and 76ers.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) May 17, 2023
I’ll be honest, I haven’t heard of this guy, and before I checked his Wikipedia page, couldn’t have told you anything about him. However! I do recognize him—hard to miss that beard—from covering a Wizards-Bucks matchup around New Year's. He’s a former second-round pick out of Arizona and is a former Harlem Globetrotter, only having played abroad and never signing a regular season NBA contract. Some nice success in the G League led to one-year stints on Philly and Minnesota’s benches, and for the past two seasons, he’s been with Washington. He even took over for Wizards’ head coach Wes Unseld Jr. for one game back in early 2022 when his boss was in COVID protocols.
This makes an even ten interviewees reported, and a total of a dozen names connected to Milwaukee’s opening.
UPDATE 2: It looks as though the University of Houston moved pretty quickly in the wake of Sampson’s reported interview. Apparently, he was offered a new deal recently that would make him one of the NCAA’s highest-paid coaches. They clearly don’t want to lose him, and if Sampson’s statement after the interview news broke of “can’t wait to compete in the Big 12 next season. Go Coogs!” is to be believed, he intends to stay put. Carry on.