It’s a great time to be a Houston Cougar.
The University of Houston men’s basketball team’s recent success on the hardwood has brought a resurgence of interest among the UH faithful. And they’re excited as their team and other school sports programs will be competing as members of the Big 12 Conference in 2023.
Being an athlete at this level also means learning how to interview with the media. The team took time from their preparation for the upcoming season to conduct a media training exercise, but this one came with a bonus: they got to play with puppies from the City of Houston’s animal shelter.
Representatives from BARC brought the puppies and an adult-sized dog to the Guy V. Lewis Development Center as part of their “Hounds and Hoops” pet adoption campaign. It’s the first collaboration of its kind between BARC and the UH men’s basketball team.
BARC spokesman Cory Stottlemyer said UH media personnel were interested in doing interviews with shelter dogs as part of some regular interview trainings they were planning with their players.
“They thought they would make it more interesting and get some more personality out of their players by having them play with the pups,” Stottlemyer said. “Some other companies might do this type of interview with a celebrity, so they got the idea to reach out and ask if we could bring some dogs and puppies over and do the same with them.”
Stottlemyer said BARC has tried a volunteer type partnership with UH in the past, but this time they wanted to “do this kind of fun twist on the traditional media partnership.”
“We really hope when other companies and businesses see this kind of interview, we will expand hopefully with the team to get more attention for their players and our pets, and other businesses will see it and come up with some creative ideas as well,” he said.
The training was an immediate success. Several players sat on the practice court playing with the pups answering questions from the athletic department’s communication team, who created a series of photos and videos highlighting the event for their social media platforms.
“They reached out to the players and let them know what was going on, so the ones who were more dog friendly jumped at the chance to do these interviews,” Stottlemyer said. “A lot of them get serious during these interviews and talk about the sport, but here they agreed to open up and be more fun.”
Players participating in the interview training included Jamal Shead, J’Wan Roberts, Emanual Sharp, Reggie Chaney, and newcomers Terence Arceneaux and Jarace Walker.
Many of the players appeared comfortable with the playful pups. Walker, a freshman power forward from IMG Academy in Florida, admitted he never owned a dog before. “Never had a dog, just fish,” he said to slight laughter.
While it’s the first partnership BARC has done with UH, it’s one coach Kelvin Sampson said he hopes will continue.
“Being able to adopt these puppies, I mean they’re adorable. How can you not fall in love with them? They just bring so much joy to your life,” he said before joining in to play with the pups.
Sampson said dogs have always been part of his family, starting with the cocker spaniel mix the coach owned as a child. Unfortunately, the dog died when he was in junior college preparing to graduate, he said.
Sampson also said he was the proud owner of a Chihuahua for 20 years, which happened to be a rescue dog.
“I just think they bring you so much joy and they’re unconditional. You go through a tough practice and feel like you’re mad at the world, but then you go home and the first thing you see sprinting up to you is your dog wanting you to rub its belly or lick your face,” he said.
“You lose a tough game and you come home, who’s waiting on you? They have no idea if you won or lost, but that dog is there. That’s why I love dogs, and when we had an opportunity to do this program, I said we’re in.”
The event was organized by Lauren Sampson, the coach’s daughter, who also serves as director for basketball operations. It also served as a dual purpose for her.
“Honestly, I was looking to adopt a dog and I started researching shelters in Houston and saw they were filling back up,” she said. “We have a platform, so it makes sense for us to have a fun day, not only playing with puppies but also to encourage people to adopt.”
Coach Sampson also talked about how events like this help his players learn the value of giving back to the community.
“Most of these kids get recruited and they’re taking a lot. Everybody’s giving them something … giving them attention, giving them time, this or that. So what we have to teach them is to give back,” he explained.
“Life isn’t always about what’s in it for you. It’s about being able to help others. Base your happiness or joy not over what you get, but how much you give. And I think that’s part of the success of our program. Even though that’s something we teach, we have great kids and it’s easy for them to adopt that. They come from families that raised them the right way,” Sampson said.
Asked if he was ready to become a dog owner again, Sampson said he’s not sure, but he left the door slightly open.
“Lauren has a soft heart. If one of these had three legs, for sure it’d be going home with her. She likes dogs like that. We’re not getting a new dog anytime soon. I can only handle one at a time. But if I wanted to take one, I like that little black one with the white stomach. I like that one,” he said, pointing to the pup.
Stottlemyer said the training also highlighted the shelter while garnering attention for the adoptable pets. BARC completely waived adoption fees as part of their “empty the shelter” campaign in July. In August, they partnered with KPRC to launch their “clear the shelters” campaign for the month, he said.
“We have some exciting campaigns coming up. Our mobile adoption teams continue going out every weekend to PetSmart, and other programs on their website,” he said.