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Don't Get Left Behind!

If you've ever wanted to ride a bandwagon, now would be a good time to jump on.

James Barrett is one of the exciting Bearkat basketball players to watch.

The Bearkat men's basketball team, after only two games of Southland Conference play, has the reins in hand and is already in the driver's seat. They open their conference home schedule with 7 p.m. games Thursday (Jan. 11) and Monday (Jan. 15).

They began conference play Thursday night with a convincing win over the highly regarded Southeastern Louisiana Lions in Hammond, La. and added another road win Saturday over Nicholls State. Last year's conference champion, Northwestern State, lost to Texas State-San Marcos in its conference opener.

While it's way too early to predict ultimate success, there are signs that this could be the year of the Kat. There have been several of those in the 90 years that basketball has been played here.

After compiling a 34-3 record in its first three years, beginning in 1917-18, Bearkat basketball was rather mediocre until the mid-1960s.           

It was then that Archie Porter became head coach and Bob Williams his disciplinarian assistant. At a time when Sam Houston State had only recently admitted its first black student, Porter and Williams stepped out front in basketball recruiting by bringing in players like James Lister, Robert White, and Ron Battle.

While the Southwest Conference lagged in recruiting black players, Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin became the two best basketball teams in Texas east of El Paso.

Don Haskins smashed the Texas college basketball color barrier at Texas Western (now Texas - El Paso). Haskins, with five black starters, won the NCAA championship in 1966 over Kentucky. That story was immortalized in the recent movie Glory Road .

The Bearkat success peaked in the 1972-73 season when the team went 28-1 and was named the AP and UPI national college division champions, before losing in the NAIA tournament.

A Lone Star Conference title followed in 1980-81 under Bob Derryberry, the last year in which Sam played in that league. Robert McPherson coached the Kats to a NCAA Division II Gulf Star Conference win in 1985-86.

Sam Houston entered play in the Southland Conference and NCAA Division I in 1987-88. Bob Marlin took over as head coach in 1998-99, won league championships in 1999-2000 and 2002-03, and with the second title punched the school's first ticket to the NCAA "Big Dance."

Under Marlin the Kats have won non-conference games over Bob Knight and Texas Tech, Missouri, Nebraska, Baylor, New Mexico State, Houston, and Bradley, all on the road.

The highlights thus far this year have included a home win over Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a strong performance against college basketball's most successful program ever and No. 1-ranked team this year, UCLA, at Pauley Pavilion.

So why the optimism for the rest of the season?

One reason is that win or lose, and they mostly win, especially at home where the Kats own the third longest non-conference winning streak in the nation, they are just plain fun to watch.

If you like basketball, you've got to love Ryan Bright. This fragile-looking 6-6 gym rat junior from Deer Park plays every minute like his hair is on fire, which coincidentally is also his hair color.

Some basketball players have size, speed, and shooting touch. Bright has an uncanny nose for the ball and a feel for the game. If a shot goes up that's about to miss, he knows where the rebound is coming off the rim. If he has the ball around the basket, by rebound, pass, or drive, he finds astounding ways to put it in.

In his relatively short career he already has 45 double-figure scoring and 11 double-figure rebounding games.

While Bright puts on a basketball clinic in every game, he is not the real or only reason this team is successful. They simply refuse to be out-hustled and out-coached.

If you watch a few Marlin-coached games against what appears to be teams with more talent, it is interesting to see those teams start strong and then wilt under the relentless defensive pressure.

"They're the best in the league," Nicholls coach J. P. Piper said after Saturday's game. "They beat you up physically and mentally. I told our players that this is who we need to play like."

Another big reason Bearkat basketball fans, and those who might find it fun to become a fan, could experience one of the program's best seasons ever, is the Southland Conference tournament. This year it will be played in the Campbell Center in the Aldine area of Houston, which could give the Kats a huge home court advantage.

Of course they have to qualify, which means there is much work yet to be done in the rest of the season, starting at home this week with McNeese and Monday with Lamar. Seats in Johnson Coliseum are free to students and employees.

But the bandwagon is already loading for the short trip down I-45. Hopefully there will be no empty seats on it.


SHSU Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak
January 10, 2007
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Assistant Director: Julia May
Writer: Jennifer Gauntt
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Telephone: 936.294.1836; Fax: 936.294.1834