Busting Brackets

Houston Cougars Basketball: March Madness Shining Moments Being Made

Houston's Ramon Walker Jr. (3) and Ryan Elvin (20) celebrate after win
Houston's Ramon Walker Jr. (3) and Ryan Elvin (20) celebrate after win / Chris Day/The Commercial Appeal / USA

The Madness is made of moments, and Sunday night was yet another. Every March, basketball fans are inundated with more highlights than they can digest. Buzzer beaters, step-back jumpers, crazy dunks… But with each highlight, there is also a story. See: the #1 Houston Cougars.

A moment is defined as “a very brief period of time,” but moments in March are anything but “brief.” A March Madness moment comes from years and years, if not decades, of hard work. No one embodied that, in a singular moment, better than a pair of Kelvin Sampson’s Houston Cougars on Sunday. 

Ramon Walker Jr. is a born and raised Houstonian. After winning the Guy V. Lewis Houston’s Basketball Player of the Year at Shadow Creek High School in Pearland, Walker went on to follow in the footsteps of previous winners Galen Robinson Jr., Quentin Grimes, and Tramon Mark: enroll at the University of Houston. In Ramon’s first year, the Cougars were looking to repeat their 2021 Final Four run, and the energy and tenacity he played with felt like it would play a key part. Houston came up just short. The Coogs fell to Villanova in the Elite 8. 

The next year, 2022-23, Houston loaded up with forward talent. Walker’s minutes got squeezed before he ultimately took a redshirt in the second half of the year. This year Walker was a vital part of a deep rotation before tearing his lateral meniscus in mid-February. Walker again was watching a year slip away from him. 

Initially diagnosed with a season-ending injury, Walker was later told he didn’t need surgery.

The door was opened and, in March… Walker was able to walk through it. 

Ryan Elvin was born in Philadelphia, but his family relocated to central Texas where he attended Cedar Ridge High School. Elvin was a first-team All-District guard but had very few scholarship options out of high school. Ultimately, Elvin fell in love with the Houston Cougar basketball program, Kelvin and Kellen Sampson, and the culture built between them so much that he walked on as a non-scholarship player. It wasn’t a hard choice: Houston was coming off the pandemic-shortened season where they had gone 23-8, and were in the top 25 of the AP Poll. But Elvin’s first year? While he played just 4 minutes per game (and played in just 8 games), the Coogs ended up in the Final Four for the sixth time in program history. Lots of confetti. Lots of nets. An unforgettable joyous freshman experience. 

Months later, Elvin’s story turned. Ryan’s father, Scott Elvin, passed away just before the start of his sophomore season. Ryan has chronicled the story in his own words and with great humility, but Ryan’s continued growth and rapid maturity were fueled by the family he was building in Houston. The staff and teammates Elvin had just enjoyed a Final Four run with were guiding him through the toughest time in his life. Ever since, Ryan is the program and the program is Ryan. Neither is the same without the other. It’s what makes the chants of his name at the end of games different than other programs across the country yelling for their walk-ons. He represents the program in a wholly other way. He’s grown up, in the program, in an entirely different way. 

It was late, both in the game and in the night. Houston and the Texas A&M Aggies were slugging it out, literally. There were over fifty fouls called between A&M and UH, and four of Houston’s five starters fouled out. Emanuel Sharp, who had a career-high 30 points, fouled out less than 90 seconds into overtime. Ramon Walker, with a sleeve over his injured knee, replaced Sharp. A possession later, Damian Dunn missed a key three-pointer, and Ramon Walker was snatching a key rebound from the grips of the Aggies. Two minutes later, National Player of the Year candidate Jamal Shead fouled out and was replaced by Elvin. Less than two game seconds after that, Elvin was at the foul line. 17 seconds left. Up just three. 

Ryan made the second Free Throw, and took the lead to four. 

Sharp had the scorer’s book, Shead had the highlights… but Ramon Walker Jr. and Ryan Elvin had the moments. And each took a long journey to get to.

There’s a second definition of a moment, “an appropriate time for doing something, an opportunity.” Walker had the putback, and Elvin was at the stripe. Without those contributions, there is no Houston Cougar moment. There is no fifth-straight Sweet 16. No talk of a Sampson-built Blue Blood. Nothing. There would have just been a seeding upset and a long plane ride home. But embedded in that there was an opportunity. Walker and Elvin seized it. 

Every year, March Madness concludes with the tune One Shining Moment. It’s video montage filled with one to four-second clips and soundbites, all over Dave Barrett’s One Shining Moment song, that add up to a single NCAA Tournament anthem. 

Where does Houston rank among Sweet 16 teams?. dark. Next. Where does Houston rank among Sweet 16 teams?

I would argue it's bigger than a “moment.” What Ramon Walker Jr. did, what Ryan Elvin did… those are from years and years of work within the Houston program, and years and years before that. One Shining Moment is a series of brief glimpses into those “moments,” but those “moments” are more than literal, brief moments. They’re the brief peak into the longer story. 

With Houston’s trip to a fifth consecutive Sweet 16, they may just be a glimpse into a special March.