Key Loss: G Andre Owens (18.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.1 apg)
Postseason: NIT Lost to Wichita State 85–69 in the opening round
Sergio de Randamie
New Orleans, LA/Brother Martin
Baton Rouge, LA/B. Mackie (KS) CC
Toronto, ON/Midland (TX) CC
Baton Rouge, LA/Mt. Zion
Morristown, NJ/W. Oklahoma CC
Fort Myers, FL/Hillsborough (FL) CC
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Turnaround Tom did it again. Tom Penders, who earned his nickname by reviving long-gone programs, has breathed life back into the University of Houston, getting incredible results both on and off the court. With Penders on the bench, the Cougars won 18 games -- more than they managed in the previous two seasons combined -- and made a run at their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1992.
The Cougars fell just short but wound up in the NIT, where they lost at Wichita State in the opening round. While it was a disappointing finish, it didn't take the edge off what had been a surprisingly successful season. "We accomplished a lot (last) season," Penders says. "But it's just the beginning. We still have a lot of work to do."
Penders' "run-gun-and-have-some-fun" approach was a stark contrast to the slowdown game used by his predecessor, Ray McCallum, and is slowly drawing fans back into Hofheinz Pavilion.
Now comes the hard part -- do it all again, and do it better. And despite the graduation of leading scorer Andre Owens (18.3 ppg), many feel the Cougars will be better this season. That's because as hard as Penders worked to turn things around at Houston, he worked even harder in the offseason, landing a talented crop of recruits.
The group of newcomers, highlighted by junior college transfers like 6-foot-8 Richard Young, 6-7 strongman Jahmar Thorpe and 6-2 wing Oliver Lafayette, along with 6-7 freshman forward Lamar Roberson, will be worked into a mix that includes four returning starters, headed by 6-3 point guard Lanny Smith (14.7 ppg, 4.2 apg). The new combination will be a versatile, quick-hitting unit that should improve on last year's offense, which managed only 69.6 points on an embarrassing 40.1 percent shooting.
To make room for the seven-man crop, Penders released four players -- Cedrick Hensley, Rodney Hannah, Englebert Cherrington and Dwight Jones -- and asked another, Darrius Brannon, to walk on.
"Some kids flourish in my system, but you have to have talent (and) confidence," says Penders of the housecleaning. "The guys who are leaving, they just didn't quite fit the system. We've recruited one of the best classes in the country, and there are kids all over this country who want to play at the University of Houston."