Houston Rockets Head Coach Kevin McHale announced today that he has hired two-time NCAA National Coach of the Year Kelvin Sampson as lead assistant coach, as well as John-Blair “J.B.” Bickerstaff, Chris Finch and Brett Gunning as assistant coaches on his staff.
“I’m thrilled to have these men on my coaching staff,” said McHale. “We are fortunate to have a very qualified and well-respected group of coaches on staff who will be committed to winning and helping our players reach their full potential.
“Kelvin Sampson has an established track record as a very successful college and NBA coach and will be a valuable addition to my staff. I have known J.B. Bickerstaff since our days together in Minnesota, and he has developed into one of the league’s best young coaches. I had an opportunity to work with Chris Finch for a few weeks leading up to the draft and I am very impressed with his success in the D-League and internationally. Brett Gunning has been here for the past three seasons in a player development role, but he has a very good feel for our players and the system we plan to implement.”
Sampson joins the Rockets after spending three seasons as an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks. During his time with the Bucks, Sampson was part of a staff that helped Milwaukee’s defense improve from 15th in the NBA in points allowed per 100 possessions in 2008-09, to second in 2009-10, and fourth in 2010-11. Prior to moving into the NBA, Sampson served two seasons as head coach at Indiana University (2006-08) where his teams went 43-15 (.741) and received NCAA Tournament bids in both of his two campaigns. His biggest success came during his 12 seasons at Oklahoma University (1994-2006) where Sampson earned two National Coach of the Year awards (AP in 1995 and NABC in 2002), made 12 postseason showings in 12 seasons (11 NCAA and one NIT), advanced to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 (1999), Final Four (2002) and Elite Eight (2003), captured three Big 12 Tournament championships (2001, 2002 and 2003) and shared the 2005 Big 12 regular season title with Kansas. Sampson won at least 20 games in each of his final nine seasons at OU and finished with a 279-109 (.719) record with the Sooners.
Sampson went to Oklahoma from Washington State where he was as an assistant before being named head coach. Overall, he went 103-103 (.500) with the Cougars (1987-94) and was twice named Kodak District 14 Coach of the Year by the NABC (1990-91 and 1991-92), as well as earning Pac-10 Coach of the Year (1991-92). He began his collegiate head coaching career at Montana Tech (1981-85), winning two regular season titles and one Frontier Conference championship. Over his final four seasons, he guided the Orediggers to a 73-45 (.619) mark. Montana Tech had won just 17 games combined in the three years prior to his arrival. Sampson was also named the league’s Coach of the Year twice (1983 and 1985).
Bickerstaff comes to the Rockets after spending four seasons (2007-11) as an assistant coach with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Prior to joining the Timberwolves, Bickerstaff spent three seasons (2004-07) as an assistant coach to his father, Bernie Bickerstaff, with the Charlotte Bobcats. He also served as head coach of Charlotte’s Summer League teams in 2005 and 2006. The youngest assistant coach in the NBA at age 25 when he began with the Bobcats in 2004-05, J.B. followed in the footsteps of his father, who was the youngest assistant coach when he joined the NBA at 29 years old in 1973.
Around basketball his whole life, Bickerstaff provided color analysis on radio broadcasts in 2003-04 for the Timberwolves when the team won the Midwest Division and advanced to the Western Conference Finals. Prior to that, he served as the director of operations for the University of Minnesota men’s basketball program where he oversaw all administrative areas of the program and assisted the coaching staff with recruiting, scouting and coaching.
Finch enters his first season as an assistant coach with the Rockets after spending two campaigns as head coach of Houston’s single-affiliation NBA Development League partner the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. In two seasons at the helm of the Vipers, Finch registered a mark of 67-33 (.670) and guided Rio Grande Valley to back-to-back D-League Finals. In 2009-10, Finch took home the Dennis Johnson Coach of the Year Award en route to capturing the 2009-10 D-League championship. Finch also led the Western Conference All-Stars to a win at the 2009 D-League All-Star Game in Dallas.
Prior to his return to the United States, Finch built a successful overseas coaching career that included taking over a dormant Great Britain National Team in May 2006 and winning FIBA’s 2007 Division B Promotional Competition. In 2009, his squad qualified for the European Championships for the first time since 1981. Finch will also lead the British National Team in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. In addition to his work with the British National Team, Finch was a head coach of teams in England (Sheffield Sharks), Germany (Giessen 46ers) and Belgium (Euphony Bree, Dexia Mons-Hainaut) from 1997-2009. Finch, who has three titles and three BBL Cup Finals on his resume, qualified for the playoffs in 11 of his 12 seasons overseas. A three-time Coach of the Year, he was also selected as a FIBA EuroCup All-Star head coach. He began his career with Sheffield, which was the same club that he played on during his four-year professional playing career. Under Finch’s tutelage, the Sharks enjoyed the franchise’s most successful run in its history. Finch was named the BBL Coach of the Year after winning the regular season title with Sheffield in 1998-99. He also led Euphony Bree to their first-ever championship in 2005.
Gunning begins his fourth season with the Houston Rockets and his first as an assistant coach. Gunning began with the Rockets as the team’s Director of Player Development, where he was responsible for improving player performance through on-court, one-on-one skill development and the use of video analysis.
Gunning joined the Rockets in 2008 after seven seasons on Jay Wright’s staff at Villanova University. During his stay with the Wildcats, Gunning played a vital role in recruiting and developing a unit that secured four straight NCAA Tournament berths and made three appearances in the Sweet 16. Gunning was named associate head coach in 2005 and was recognized following the 2007-08 season as one of the top-25 assistants in the nation by rivals.com. His responsibilities with the Wildcats included on-court teaching, recruiting and scouting. A part of Wright’s staffs at both Hofstra University and Villanova, Gunning was an integral part of the rebirth orchestrated at Hofstra over his seven seasons. He was part of a staff that built the Pride into an America East powerhouse that posted a 72-22 (.766) record from 1998-2001. Gunning, who assisted with recruiting, individual instruction, scouting and film analysis at Hofstra, was also instrumental in the development of Pride players.