After Final Four run, No. 15 Houston debuts new look vs. Hofstra

NCAA Basketball

Speedy Claxton’s career at Hofstra University ended with a loss to an Elite Eight-bound team in the 2000 NCAA Tournament.

Twenty-one years later, Claxton’s tenure as Hofstra’s head coach will begin with a similarly challenging opponent Tuesday night, when the Pride are scheduled to visit No. 15 Houston — fresh off a trip to the Final Four — in the season opener for both schools.

Houston was picked to win the American Athletic Conference this year after going 28-4 and reaching the Final Four for the first time in 37 years last spring, when the Cougars fell to eventual national champion Baylor 78-59 in the national semifinals.

Hofstra was picked fifth in the Colonial Athletic Association after going 13-10 and falling to Elon in the CAA semifinals.

Both teams are embarking upon the rapid rebuilds that will be commonplace across the country this season.

Houston’s leading scorer last year, Quentin Grimes, turned pro following his junior season while DeJon Jarreau, the third-leading scorer, and Justin Gorham, the Cougars’ leading rebounder, both graduated, as did Brison Gresham, who started 19 games.

“When you put a season together, you just do it brick by brick,” Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson said.

Junior Marcus Sasser is the lone returnee who averaged in double figures last season (13.7 points per game). Houston added three senior transfers — guards Kyler Edwards (Texas Tech) and Taze Moore (Cal-State Bakersfield) and forward Josh Carlton (Connecticut).

Moore was a first-team all-Big West honoree after averaging 12.2 points per game for Cal State Bakersfield last season, while Edwards was an All-Big 12 honorable mention after averaging 10.1 points and leading Texas Tech with 2.8 assists per game.

“Last year we had so many guys coming back,” Sampson said. “This year we lost four guys that basically started (all season), so we’re having to indoctrinate a lot of guys into how we play.”

Hofstra has nine new players but returns leading scorer Jalen Ray, who averaged 19.3 points per game as a senior before opting to return for the extra year the NCAA granted to all fall and winter athletes, as well as point guard Caleb Burgess, who led the CAA with 5.6 assists per game.

Among the five transfers for Hofstra are a trio of guards — graduate senior Zach Cooks, who scored 1,788 points while being named to an all-conference team three times at NJIT, as well as sophomore Darlinstone Dubar and junior Aaron Estrada, who played last season at Iowa State and Oregon, respectively.

“The rotation is going to be based on performance,” Claxton said after practice Sunday. “We are a new team — we’re a talented and very deep team. One night it might be somebody’s night, the next night, it might be somebody else’s. It’s kind of who’s playing well that night, that’s who we’re going to ride.”

Claxton scored 2,015 points and collected a school-record 660 assists from 1996-2000 and led Hofstra to the America East title and an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2000, when the then-Flying Dutchmen fell to Oklahoma State 86-66. After a 10-year NBA career, Claxton joined Joe Mihalich’s staff prior to the 2013-14 season and was named head coach Apr. 7, fewer than three weeks after Mihalich — who did not coach last season while on medical leave — announced his retirement from coaching.

“I don’t (only) want to be a great player here. I want to be a great coach and ultimately be a great leader of Hofstra University,” Claxton said during his introductory Zoom call Apr. 8.

–Field Level Media

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