After enjoying one of the most successful seasons in Sam Houston State basketball history, the 2003-2004 Bearkats will try to defend their Southland Conference Championship with a squad full of unfamiliar faces.
“I expect this group to play hard every time out and to get better and hopefully they will be playing their best basketball at the end of the year,” head coach Bob Marlin said. “We lost six seniors off last year’s team. We lost our only inside guy and one of our best players in Eddy Fobbs to a knee injury.”
“This is going to force us to play inexperienced players inside. They are not as big as some of the post guys we have had in the past and that will be a problem for us. Luckily we do have some players coming back from last year’s squad, and that is valuable.”
Returning for the Kats this season will be senior guard Jason Stephenson, sophomore guards Marcus Ebow and Chris Jordan, and forward Sam Onwuchekwa.
Stephenson is one of the top perimeter shooters in the conference with 73 career three-point baskets. Stephenson was sixth in team scoring last season, averaging 5.5 points per game.
“Jason Stephenson is the third leading returning three point shooter in the conference and we have a lot of confidence in him,” Coach Marlin said. “He had some big games for us last year and he understands what we are doing here as a program.”
Ebow played in all 30 contests last season for SHSU as a back up to All-Southland Conference point guard Robert Shannon and averaged just under 10 minutes of playing time. Jordan started 10 games and averaged 4.2 points per game.
“Marcus Ebow is an excellent passer,” Coach Marlin said. “He has a really great feel for the game.”
“Chris (Jordan) had some big games for us as well last season. He is shooting the ball very well and he should make a lot of three-point baskets for us.”
Coach Marlin brought in one of the best recruiting classes of his tenure as head coach this season. Several players will need to step in to replace SLC “Player of the Year” Donald Cole, and All-Conference selections Shannon and Fobbs.
“I think that all the new guys will make an impact this season,” Coach Marlin said. “Joe Thompson is a great passer and we are going to count on him to pick up some of the scoring slack.”
“Wilder Auguste is a very athletic player that can finish around the basket. He is probably our best rebounder and he has really worked hard in practice.”
Thompson and Auguste, along with Scott Gernander, are junior transfers that have college playing experience that should help out.
Ryan Griffin and Aaron Wade headline the freshman class this season. Griffin, a 6’7” forward, was named the San Antonio area “Player of the Year” after averaging 21.1 points per game and 13.2 rebounds for Reagan High School.
Wade was a two-time All-District selection in 9-5A for Plano East High School. The 6’7” forward averaged 13.3 points per game to go with 7.1 rebounds.
“Ryan (Griffin) is a very fundamentally sound player,” Coach Marlin said. “He is getting bigger and stronger, but he already knows how to play.”
“Wade is a player that we are really excited about. He has had some really good fall practices and the game is beginning to slow down for him.”
The defending champs were picked by the conference’s head coaches to finish 10th in the league in the pre-season poll. The University of Texas-Arlington was picked first, just edging out Stephen F. Austin.
“It is not important where we are picked because in our league we have been traditionally picked low,” Coach Marlin said. “My first year here we were picked 11th and finished ninth and in my second year we were picked sixth and finished first.”
The only time that Sam Houston was picked to win the Southland was last year, and they didn’t let the voters down.
The Bearkats will have the opportunity to make some noise this season and hopefully begin the journey towards adding another banner to the Johnson Coliseum ceiling.
The Kats play their first game of the season when they host Jarvis Christian on Friday night at 7 p.m.