Kelvin Sampson

Houston Cougars are going to the Final Four

John Thatcher and Kelvin Sampson
John Thatcher with Kelvin Sampson
coaching the 1983 Orediggers
"I love what he brought to the table, when he
took over as head coach at Montana Tech, most of
all enthusiasm. He changed the whole atmosphere of Montana
Tech with his attitude. His ability to recruit was
tremendous and I really believe he made the Frontier
Conference better because other teams had to recruit up to compete."
John Thatcher
Former Montana Tech Assistant Coach

And Then There Were Four...
Montana Tech Celebrates Coach Kelvin Sampson

Monday night Coach Kelvin Sampson's Houston Cougars punched their ticket to the Final Four with a 67-61 victory over the Oregon State University Beavers. This will be Houston's first trip to the final four in over 34 years.

This is especially interesting when you consider that in 1984 when Houston’s famed Phi Slama Jama team including players Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler were heading to the Final Four, current Cougars Coach Sampson was at the beginning of his coaching career leading the Montana Tech Orediggers.

Fresh off a student coaching position for Jud Heathcote at Michigan State where he had completed his master's degree in coaching and administration, Sampson accepted an assistant coaching position at Montana Tech in 1980.

In a 2019 interview with MTN Sports Sampson shared, "Well, when I drove across that mountain... Homestake Pass I was 24 years old. I didn’t know if I was on foot or horseback.

Kelvin Sampson speaking at commencement

I was just chasing a job, chasing a dream. No idea where it was going to lead me, but sometimes you have to bet on yourself. And understand often times the first step on the ladder to success is failure.”

Sampson took over head coaching duties a year later and took a team that had won a combined 17 games the previous three seasons and turned it into a program that clinched 22 wins in each of his last three seasons. He also claimed three Frontier Conference championships at Montana Tech, led his teams to two NAIA District 12 title games and was named the league's coach of the year in 1983 and 1985.

Dan Trudnowski, Kelvin Sampson, & Joe McClafferty
Dan Drudnowski, Kelvin Sampson, and Joe McClafferty
"He helped me understand that the team was much
bigger than the individual. Yet, he also showed me that
a true leader cares about every individual. It's beem some 35
years since I played for coach, and I was only a role player.
But when I get the chance to see him, he still
treats me like I was the most important player he
ever coached. He does this to all his former players.
To this day, I'd still run thru a wall for him!"
Dan Trudnowski, Montana Tech Basketball Alumni 
"Coach makes everything better - that is what he does
- he repairs and builds by not settling. He
changed my life profoundly as he has done for countless others.
He is a great coach but evena better person."
Joe McClafferty, Montana Tech Basketball Alumni

Sampson went on to coach for Washington State, Oklahoma, Indiana, the Milwaukee Bucks, Houston Rockets, and most recently Houston where he has been at the helm since 2014. In his nearly 40 year career, he has been named a National Coach of the Year three times. Sampson has received six conference Coach of the Year awards from four different leagues and guided every program he has led to multiple 20-win seasons during his stints. Sampson is one of only 15 coaches in NCAA history to lead 4+ schools to the NCAA Tournament.

Monday night's game against Oregon State marked Sampson's 1,000th game and this year he passed John Wooden on the career victories list.

Sampson and his wife Karen remain connected and involved with Montana Tech, visiting campus and supporting the university and student athletes.

Sampson led the charge for a new court for the Montana Tech HPER complex. The court that now bears his name, was remodeled in 2007 and features 360-degree seating for 2,000 fans. Kelvin Sampson Court is home to Montana Tech Volleyball as well as Men and Women's Basketball. In addition to athletic events, Kelvin Sampson Court is used for concerts, graduations, fundraisers, community events, career and college fairs.

In 2017, Sampson shared inspiration with the newest crop of Oredigger alumni when he served as commencement speaker. As a coach, Sampson joined the Montana Tech Athletics Hall of Fame in 1996 and returned in 2019 to celebrate the induction of his 1982-83, 1983-84, and 1984-85 teams.

Kelvin Sampson CourtOnce an Oredigger always an Oredigger as Sampson himself shared, “I’ve coached at some great schools, made some great relationships, but Montana Tech has always been near and dear to my heart because both my kids were born here in Butte and raised other places but they were born here. This in a lot of ways this is home for us.”

Along with Houston, this year’s final four includes Gonzaga, UCLA, and Baylor.

Sampson’s Cougars (28-3) will tip-off in a Texas showdown against the Baylor Bears Saturday at 3:14p MST. While the stadium in Indianapolis may only be at 25% due to COVID restrictions, Coach Sampson can be assured that he’ll have plenty of Diggers cheering him on from afar.