The rise of UH's annual basketball fundraising dinner: 'You really need to go'

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Elaine Ebner is a University of Houston alumna who has supported the school's athletics department for decades.

So when the Cougars' basketball coach Kelvin Sampson arrived at UH in 2014, she was asked to help start an annual fundraising dinner for the men's basketball program. Ebner agreed to organize the banquet, but knew she'd need some help from fellow alumna, Patty Godfrey.

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"The first person I called was Patty," said Ebner. "I said, 'We have a little job to do.'"

The first dinner took place in November 2014, but that "little job" became a big job. The first dinner was held at Hofheinz Pavilion, prior to its renovation and renaming to the Fertitta Center. It consisted of borrowed tables and chairs, homemade decorations, and a lot of cajoling.

"The program was at an all-time low in support," said Ebner. "We were practically begging our friends and season ticket holders to come."

The banquet moved to the on-campus Hilton Hotel in 2015, and that's when the dinner slowly began gaining traction. There's now a waiting list for the banquet each year, and Godfrey said it's in large part to Sampson.

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"Sampson is a hoot," said Godfrey. "It's become a roast."

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the dinner in 2020, but Ebner and Godfrey are optimistic it will return this November.

"This has become one of those events that you really need to go to," said Godfrey. "I think a lot of it is because of Sampson, and everything his program has done."

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