INDIANAPOLIS – Houston coach Kelvin Sampson was forced to pause to manage his emotions Friday at a Final Four news conference, talking about his father’s impact as a “role model and hero” in his life and to those in his hometown of Pembroke, North Carolina – as part of the Lumbee Indian community of Deep Branch.
Sampson recounted the time his father, John “Ned” Sampson, and 500 Lumbee Native Americans helped force the Ku Klux Klan out of Maxton, North Carolina in 1958. The encounter – in which Sampson’s father and his friends helped break up a KKK rally – is annually celebrated by the Lumbee as the Battle of Hayes Pond. Sampson’s father died in 2014 and his grandson’s middle name is “Ned.”
“I’m very proud of Lumbee Nation. I’m very proud of my father,” Sampson told reporters. “(Ned Sampson)’s a pretty good person to be a role model of growing up.”
“Even to this day if you go back to Pembroke, North Carolina, he was a rock and a foundation piece for that community. We’re a non-federally recognized native American tribe that’s felt prejudice and racism our entire lives. When I was raised in Pembroke, that was a big source of pride — that we stayed with each other. We kind of care of each other. The KKK was huge in that area. That’s a vivid, clear image with me.”
The 65-year-old Sampson also talked about coaching clinics with his father that were segregated and his father’s part-time job in a Tobacco factory where water fountains and bathrooms were labeled “colored,” “white” and “other.”
“You didn’t think anything of it at the time,” Sampson said. “It’s the way it was in the 1960s. It was very divided. Very racist. But we survived. We achieved.”
Sampson is back in the Final Four for the first time since 2002 when he led the Oklahoma Sooners to the last weekend in college basketball. He’s been at Houston for seven years, guiding the Cougars to two American Athletic titles and a Sweet 16 in 2019. His past includes a dismissal from Indiana and a five-year show-clause suspension by the NCAA. Sampson turned down answering questions about the past at Indiana University on Friday with reporters, saying it’s in “my rear-view mirror” and that he believes in “silver linings.”
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.