The University of Houston has jumped from a slow-moving canoe into a powerboat in an attempt to make a big splash on the college scene. Out is Ray McCallum and his plodding attack that averaged just 59 points per game last season and produced an average of 11 wins over the past four seasons. In is Tom Penders, Mr. Run and Shoot.
"What did they average, 59 points a game? That'll be a good half for us," Penders said. "I'd rather lose a game 110-102 than 59-49 and brag about my defense."
McCallum, now an assistant at Oklahoma, could be proud of his team having held opponents to 40 percent shooting, but Penders is willing to give up easy baskets (and believe it, the Cougars will) to force tempo. He expects 20 turnovers a night from his variety of presses.
"It's the Buddy Ryan football philosophy -- turn 'em over," Penders said. "We want to get after people and play an exciting brand of basketball.
"I want athletic kids who want to put up numbers. That's my style, and it's not going to change. It sells tickets, gets you on TV and makes kids want to play for you. It'll be exciting."
FRONTCOURTThe first thing Penders saw when watching film from last season was a team of stick figures.
"It was like they were on some mail order weight program, and they were still waiting for the mail to come," Penders jokes. "We needed more strength, more physicality. You can't play with all skinny guys."
With that in mind, Penders added three junior college big men with bulk -- Englebert Cherrington (6-foot-7, 235), Rodney Hannah (6-8, 240) and Sergio de Randamie (6-7, 240).
Though undersized by traditional standards, the very athletic Hannah and de Randamie can both play center in today's college game. The Cougars return only one true low-post player, Elijah Miller, and he played less than 10 minutes a game.
Ramon Dyer started nearly half of the team's games at power forward, but at 6-7, 190, he'll have to run the floor to earn playing time.
The good news is Penders will often play four perimeter players and only one big man, creating interesting mismatches. That's why small forward Andrew Francis could be a key contributor. He began last season in the starting lineup but suffered a stress fracture in his back after just four games and received a medical redshirt.
BACKCOURTThis is a guard-heavy team with plenty of experience, albeit in a different system.
The leading returner is Andre Owens, the team's top scorer a year ago and perhaps the hardest-working Cougar. He became the first UH player since '86-87 to score 40 points in a game when he dropped in 41 against Texas A&M. Owens is not a one-dimensional player. He is Houston's top returning rebounder and led the team in steals while averaging three assists per game.
Backcourt mate Lanny Smith started 26 of 27 games as a true freshman and could flourish in Penders' system. The coach said the early eye-catcher is Dwight Jones II, a slinky 6-2 sophomore, who is the son of former NBA player and '72 USA Olympian Dwight Jones Sr. The younger Jones, who sat out last year after playing sparingly as a freshman in '02-03, could develop into the team's best scoring threat.
FINAL ANALYSISLuring Penders out of the broadcast booth could pay early dividends in terms of excitement and interest -- as well as victories.
If the five newcomers are anywhere near as good as Penders claims, this team will have a winning season. If the holdovers adjust to the new style and play solid defense, UH could be one of the surprise teams in the country.
It will take a couple of seasons before Penders has an entire roster of his kind of player, but don't expect him to be patient. College basketball is more fun with him on the sidelines, and it'll be more fun with him in the NCAA tournament, where he led nine of his last 13 teams.
The Cougars probably would gladly settle for the NIT this year, but they expect to be in the real tournament soon thereafter.