The story of the University of Houston men's basketball team can be seen as one of rebirths, second chances, starting over.
Head coach James Dickey hasn't been a head coach since losing his job at Texas Tech in 2001. His associate head coach, Alvin Brooks, flamed out as the Cougars head coach in the late-`90s, and has been an assistant since that time. So they're getting a second chance, a do-over in the coaching world.
But meet Ulric Maligi.
He's only 25 years old, yet he's been coaching since 2002 as a student assistant/video coordinator at Howard University, from where he graduated in 2006, and as a head coach of the AAU Dallas Mustangs from 2003-2006, while taking classes and assisting at Howard.
Fifty of the players he coached and recruited with the Mustangs signed NCAA Division One scholarships. He was an assistant coach at UT-Arlington for the 2006-07 season, and he was assistant at Stephen F. Austin from 2007-10.
Now he's the youngest man on the James Dickey Cougars coaching staff.
"I'm just taking it all in, really. I'm having fun," Maligi said after his hiring. "I'm really excited to be here at the University of Houston. I think everyday, talking to Coach Brooks especially, learning more about the knowledge...when [Dickey] offered me the job and I accepted, I stayed up to probably six in the morning watching You Tube clips of Phi Slama Jama and that kind of thing, it's just a tremendous amount of tradition here at the University of Houston, and it's just so many players in this area."
Maligi and Brooks have several things in common. They're both tied into the Texas recruiting scene, and both have proven to be strong recruiters. And they're vowing to make the Houston area a prime recruiting ground for the Cougars.
"The focus is recruiting Texas kids," Maligi said. "But primarily Houston kids, and keeping these guys right here at home."
Brooks agrees, stating that "It has to be our priority, and it's a battle that we have to win, and we will win. So all of you young guys, you parents, send us your kids, because we need them, and we'll take good care of them."
But there's another thing the two have in common, the young coaching prodigy angle.
Brooks, the former Cougar head coach, looks at Maligi, and kind of sees a younger version of himself.
"If you talk with Ulric Maligi, he's a very bright young man," Brooks said. "He was a really good student at Howard University. He has a knack for really connecting with young people and with coaches. He works really hard. He's mature beyond his years. As a result, he can rise.
"But as I was telling Ulric, when I came to Houston as an assistant in April of `86, I was 26 years of age. He's a couple of months short of that. So don't get caught up on that. It's all about how your present yourself, how you take care of your business, and you can get a lot of things done."
And while Maligi is the rising star, for Brooks, this the second chance, returning to Houston so that he, and Dickey, can get it right. Brooks was the top assistant and chief recruiter for Pat Foster when Foster coached the Cougars, then Brooks took over when Foster left.
The Cougars were 54-85 during Brooks' five years in charge, a time that saw Brooks reporting to three athletic directors. Brooks was then an assistant for two years with Dickey at Texas Tech, then became an assistant and recruiter for Billy Gillispie at UTEP and Texas A&M before taking over basketball operations at Kentucky for Gillispie.
"That's kind of what life's all about," Brooks says of taking the job. "We all need second chances. We all need opportunities. We've just got to make the best of it. And I think he [Dickey] will, and I think we all will. We're really looking forward to it.
"This is a great university. It really is. It's the city of Houston's university, and when we go out to recruit the city of Houston, the most success that the university's had is when they've had local kids. No matter where kids go, the most success that the local kids have had is when they've been right here at the University of Houston."
Brooks is excited to be back at the place he considers to be his school, and he admits to being a little emotional about his return.
"I felt so humbled by having the opportunity for a second time to help the University of Houston, which has done so much for me and my family over the years."
The Cougars aren't starting from ground zero. The team did make the NCAA Tournament this past season under Tom Penders. But their leading scorers, Aubrey Coleman and Kelvin Lewis, are gone. So there will be pressure to rebuild and restock on the fly.
But James Dickey appears to have to found the two men capable of getting the team getting restocked. And it's a challenge that Maligi, the pupil, and Brooks, the mentor, appear to be more than willing to face.
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