Sampson, Heels honored in Phoenix

Houston's Kelvin Sampson, Associated Press Coach of the Year, speaks to the media during a news conference ahead of a Final Four college basketball games in the NCAA Tournament, Friday, April 5, 2024, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

While NC State wasn’t able to cut down the nets in Phoenix, it was a successful Final Four weekend for several other North Carolina products.

Robeson County’s Kelvin Sampson won the AP National Coach of the Year award to start the weekend. It’s the second such honor in Sampson’s coaching career, making him one of four coaches to win the award at two different schools.

A pair of North Carolina Tar Heels also earned a spot in the Hall of Fame class of 2024. Vince Carter and Walter Davis will enter the hall later this year. They will become the 13th and 14th Tar Heel Hall of Famers.

From Lumbee country to the top of college basketball

Sampson was born in the Deep Branch community in Robeson County, in the Lumbee Native American Community. He starred at Pembroke High School, where he was captain on teams coached by his father. Sampson went on to play basketball and baseball at Pembroke State (now known as UNC Pembroke) earning two degrees and serving as team captain.

He started his coaching career in 1979 shortly after graduation, earning his first head coaching job at Montana Tech in 1981. Sampson spent time at Washington State, Oklahoma and Indiana before taking over the Houston Cougars in 2014.

Sampson earned his first AP Coach of the Year award in 1995, after leading Oklahoma to a 23-9 record in his first year with the Sooners, setting a conference record for best first-year record by a coach.

“I last won this 20 years ago,” Sampson said. “Twenty years ago, I didn’t think I’d be coaching now, so that’s, I guess, a surprise in itself.”

This year, under Sampson, Houston was the best defensive team in the nation and earned a top seed in the tournament after going 32-5 and winning the Big 12 regular season. Houston was upset by Duke in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 after top player Jamal Shead was hurt early in the game.

Sampson joins nine other coaches, including John Wooden, Bob Knight, Bill Self and Guy Lewis, to win the award more than once. Tony Bennett (Washington State and Virginia), Eddie Sutton (Arkansas and Kentucky) and Roy Williams (UNC and Kansas) are the only others to win it at multiple schools.

Posthumous honor

UNC legend Walter Davis, who died in November at age 69, was voted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Davis was represented at the announcement by his daughter, Hillary Laird, who spoke on his behalf.

“He would have just been on cloud nine,” she said. “He would have been so happy. His college number was 24, at UNC, and here we are (The class of) ’24 is pretty special. To have it announced here in Phoenix where he career began, it just felt like it was meant to be. I just wish he was here.”

Davis was born in Pineville and went to UNC from South Mecklenburg High School. With Carolina, he hit one of the most famous shots in Tar Heel history. Davis’ buzzer beater against Duke capped a comeback wiping out an eight-point deficit in the final 17 seconds. They went on to win in overtime. He played for UNC coach Dean Smith on the 1976 Olympic team, winning gold in Montreal.

Davis then played 16 years in the NBA, winning Rookie of the Year in 1978 and making six All-Star teams. His pro number, 6, is retired by the Phoenix Suns. Davis also played for Denver and Portland.


Vince Carter headlines the 13-member Hall of Fame class that also includes Davis, Michael Cooper, Chauncey Billups and Dick Barnett, women’s players Seimone Augustus and Michele Timms, coaches Charles Smith, Harley Redin and Bo Ryan, broadcaster/coach Doug Collins, executive Jerry West and owner Herb Simon.

Carter played for UNC from 1995 to 1998. The high-flying wing won first-team All-ACC and second-team All-American while leading the Tar Heels to back-to-back Final Fours. He went on to play 22 years in the NBA, making eight All-Star teams and winning the 2000 Olympic gold medal. Carter won the 2000 Dunk Contest in one of the most spectacular displays in the history of the event.

“You can’t put it into words,” Carter said of getting the honor. “You think about the people that are in there, and now you get the opportunity. It’s mind-blowing for me. You talk about the cherry on top. This is it for me.”

Carter and Davis join a list of UNC Hall of Famers that includes coaches Ben Carnevale, Frank McGuire, Dean Smith and Roy Williams and players Billy Cunningham, Bob McAdoo, Larry Brown, James Worthy, Michael Jordan, Charlie Scott, Bobby Jones and George Karl.

“Tar Heels in the building,” joked Carter.