For each of the last five seasons the Sam Houston State Bearkat basketball team has been on the cusp of Southland Conference glory.
Each of the last five seasons, the Bearkats have reached at least the semi-finals of the SLC tournament, but every time they have fallen short of their ultimate goal, which is to win the conference tournament and secure a berth in the NCAA tournament.
For head coach Jason Hooten, he needs to address how to turn the Kats from contenders to champions.
“That’s one that I’ve been trying to get answered,” head coach Jason Hooten said. “I think a lot of things have to come into play. Number one thing is that we’ve got to shoot the ball better this year. Our percentages from the three-point line just weren’t good enough, and so we’re looking to see if there are some things we need to do offensively X’s and O’s wise differently or if we just got to make shots.”
Last season, the Bearkats shot just 31.7 percent from the three-point line, which ranked last in the SLC. However, the good news for the Bearkats is that they are returning four of their top five three-point shooters from a season ago; sophomore forward Albert Almanza (40.9%), and sophomore guards Cameron Delaney (39.5%), Josh Delaney (38.6%), and John Dewey III (35.3%). All four players, with the exception of Dewey III, spent most of the season coming off the bench, and are projected to get more minutes in the 2017-18 season.
“I think we have some shot makers coming in,” Hooten said. “And some guys returning who can make shots as well.”
SHSU will look much different on the court next season. The team lost four starters due to graduation; Paul Baxter, Dakarai Henderson, Aurimas Majauskas and Torry Butler were all seniors and were cornerstones in the Bearkat basketball program. Despite the four losses, the Kats however will not lack talent this season. Dewey III made the All-Conference team and ranked second in the conference in assists per game last season. The Bearkats also return junior forward Chris Galbreath Jr., who was one of the top sixth men in the conference last season, and started each game in the conference tournament. Junior forward Jamaal Williams is also making a return to the hardwood.
Eight new players are set to make their Bearkat debuts this season, and Hooten is hopeful that the team will finally be able to get over that conference title hump that has haunted the team since their last SLC title in 2010.
“To get over that hump is the toughest thing to do in any sport,” Hooten said. “We just need to figure out what we can do better. Our biggest letdown to me was our chemistry. I thought at times we didn’t always play up to our ability, and I think our chemistry had a lot to do with that.”
Fixing the chemistry is not something Hooten views as a problem going into next year. Even though the Bearkats lost four leaders, the Bearkats are bringing back people who had a solidified role on the team last season, and are ready to expand upon that role in November.