A friend of a friend-Eduardo Najera and Kelvin Sampson April 17

One thing I have learned is that good friends have other good friends. This is a series of stories about “friends of my friends”. The post below is the story for April 17, 2015.

My goal in 2015 is to learn or get re-acquainted with 365 people and doing a daily post on the “the friend of a friend” is helping me get closer to my goal.

The month of April is a busy time on a college campus as the spring semester winds down. Our campus like others seems it has an event almost every day or evening. Last night we had a special event we call the “Cash Bash” which is a fundraiser for the athletic department at UNC Pembroke. The Cash Bash is a silent and live auction with a dinner. There is also a drawing for cash prizes along with a guest speaker. The guest speaker last night was my friend Kelvin Sampson.

Cash Bash3473-S

The University of North Carolina at Pembroke Braves Club holds the annual Cash Bash fundraiser on Thursday, April 17th, 2014. cash_bash_2014_0265.jpg

Kelvin Sampson is a 1978 graduate of Pembroke State University (now called UNC Pembroke). He was a member of the basketball team when I first came to Pembroke as an assistant coach under Joe Gallagher in 1977. Kelvin also grew up in Pembroke and his parents were iconic figures on our campus before he ever enrolled.

Kelvin’s mom Eva was the university nurse way before the athletic teams had a trainer of team doctor. If someone got sick on the basketball team they went to the infirmary and saw Miss Eva as she was affectionately called.

Ned Sampson was Kelvin’s dad and he was the first athlete inducted into the UNC Pembroke Hall of Fame in 1980. He was a fabulous basketball player with a smooth jump shot. Kelvin’s dad was also a dynamic high school coach who impacted many lives in Robeson County at Magnolia and Pembroke Senior High School. Kelvin actually played for his dad at Pembroke High School and is a 1974 graduate.

Ned Sampson

Kelvin has received lots of accolades including being inducted into the Montana Tech Hall of Fame in 1996 and into the UNC Pembroke Athletic Hall of Fame in February 1998 just like his dad.

Today Kelvin is the Head Coach at the University of Houston. Prior to being hired at Houston he was an Assistant Coach in the N.B.A for the Milwaukee Bucks and the Houston Rockets. Kelvin also has spent 26 years as a college head coach at Indiana, Oklahoma, Washington State and Montana Tech, Sampson compiled a 513-289 record. He has led his teams to 13 NCAA Tournament appearances, including 11 in 12 years with the Sooners from 1994 to 2006. During his Oklahoma tenure, he guided the Sooners to 10 consecutive 20-win seasons, the 1999 Sweet 16, the 2002 Final Four and an Elite Eight appearance in 2003. I was fortunate to go visit Kelvin while he was the OU coach several times.

Kelvin Sampson

Kelvin and his wife, Karen also a UNC Pembroke graduate, have a daughter, Lauren, and a son, Kellen who is a coach with his dad.

(l-r) Wife Karen, Kelvin, son Kellen,and daughter Lauren.

Kelvin's family

As part of his presentation last night he spoke about how most people have it wrong that coaches and teachers impact their players or students. He reminded the audience that it was our players and students that teach us and inspire us. He focused on one example Eduardo Najera a player he recruited at Oklahoma that had to learn a new language in a new country and succeeded.


Kelvin UH

The Friend of the Friend- EDUARDO NAJERA

Eduardo OU

Coach learning from the player

In Kelvin Sampson remarks at the UNC Pembroke athletic department fundraiser he spent lots of time telling the audience what he learned from Eduardo Najera. Eduardo Najera was a basketball recruit that Kelvin Sampson met outside of San Antonio, Texas on April 19, 1995.

Kelvin was sure of the date because that was the day of the Oklahoma City, OK bombing that killed over 160 people. He detailed walking into a high school coach’s office with an interpreter because Eduardo could not speak or understand English. He was born in Chihuahua, Mexico on July 11, 1976. At the time of his visit it appeared that Oklahoma might not even be on the radar of Eduardo because he had already promised to make five visits to other colleges. At the time five was the maximum number of visits that a college prospect could make.  One of the five schools he had promised to visit was Duke. The assistant coach that was recruiting Eduard from Duke University was Mike Brey. In April of 1995 Mike Brey left Duke and went to the University of Delaware to be their head coach. When Mike left Duke, they lost their interest in Eduardo. Kelvin was in San Antonio to try to convince Eduardo that OU was the place for him. Kelvin was successful but he still had to get Eduardo eligible to play and his failure to speak English was going to be a huge stumbling block. To become NCAA eligible he had to pass the ACT which is a college readiness test.

Oklahoma University gave Eduardo permission to enroll as a part-time student and take two courses in English. One course focused on the language and the other was in writing. Eduardo had until December 15, 1995 to take those courses and pass the ACT. If he didn’t reach that milestone by the December date OU was not going to allow him to continue as a part-time student and he would need to attend a junior college.

Eduardo took the ACT 13 times and the first 12 times he could not get the composite score of 18 that he needed. He worked hard in his classes improved but continued to come up short. He took the 13th test on a Tuesday and had asked for expedited results. The results came on a Friday and sprinted to Coach Kelvin Sampson’s office. He rushed in and said “I passed”. Kelvin took the paper and said a prayer and he added up the scores he calculated the same result as Eduardo he had passed.

The lesson learned by the coach taught by the player was this. Eduardo left the coach’s office by making a statement. Coach “I will become the first Hispanic to get drafted by the NBA.” That happened in 2000 when Eduardo became the first Hispanic ever drafted when he was selected in the second round by the Houston Rockets and was immediately traded to Dallas Mavericks. He played for 12 seasons in the NBA for the Mavericks, Warriors, Nuggets, Nets, back to Mavericks, and finally Bobcats.

Today Eduardo is the head coach of the NBA D-League Team the Texas Legends where he has been the head coach for the past three years.

Sometimes a person struggle to learn a new language is not the same as a person goal. Eduardo struggled to learn English but his goal was much higher.

We all need to remember what Eduardo Najera taught his coach.


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