Kats open practice as favorites to win SLC-West

With the Sam Houston State men’s basketball season set to open in just a few short weeks, the Bearkats held their first practice last Friday for what looks to be another promising season under head coach Bob Marlin.

With eight lettermen returning, the Bearkats will be looking for their third consecutive 20-victory season after going 21-10 last year. A third consecutive 20-win season would be a first for SHSU men’s basketball.

The team will be looking to gain some national recognition for their play during Marlin’s tenure. SHSU has the second most wins for an NCAA Division I basketball team in Texas, in the 21st century (2000-07), trailing the Texas Longhorns, who have 197 wins under Rick Barnes; SHSU has 149, followed by Texas Tech with 147 under Bobby Knight.

With Marlin at the helm, SHSU has produced four 20-win seasons, including the last two years in a row. The Kats earned the Southland Conference runner-up in both of those years.

The Bearkats will be playing sixteen home games this season for the first time since moving to the NCAA Division I level in the late 1980s. There will be several big name opponents visiting the Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum this year. Perhaps none will be bigger than the second game of the season when “The General,” Bobby Knight, and the Texas Tech Red Raiders come to town on November 14th. Other notable teams are Fresno State, California-Irvine and Central Florida.

“We’re excited to bring quality non-conference teams to Huntsville to play before the home crowd in Johnson Coliseum,” Marlin said. “Our appearances in the NCAA tournament, the Preseason NIT, ESPN BracketBusters and other major holiday tournaments have brought Sam Houston basketball national exposure. It’s a big step for our program to bring top NCAA Division I teams into our arena.”

Against non-conference teams, Sam Houston State holds the nation’s third longest home-court winning streak as the 2007-2008 season dawns. The Kats have won 29 straight home games against non-conference foes at the Coliseum. The last time a non-conference team beat Sam Houston State at the coliseum was when Texas A&M beat the Kats back in the 1998-1999 season. Only Duke and Utah State currently have longer active streaks.

“One of our goals always is to go undefeated at home. We’re proud of the non-conference home winning streak,” Marlin said. “But maintaining that streak is going to be a challenge this year with so many top teams coming to play at Johnson.”

One of the many “bright” spots this season will be the return of 6-6 senior forward Ryan Bright. Bright, a first team selection on both the 2007 All-Southland Conference and SLC All-Academic squads, was recognized last year as the league’s men’s basketball “Student-Athlete of the Year” after having a 3.57 grade point average to go along with 14.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. Last season, Bright became just the 20th player in Bearkat history to score 1,000 points and was named Southland “Player of the Week” three times.

“Ryan has been a consistent performer each of his three seasons,” Marlin said. “He is an excellent shooter with good ball skills and has led the team in rebounding the past two years. He has worked hard to have another great year and go out as a champion.”

Senior guards Shamir McDaniel and Jeremy Thomas will also help provide leadership to this team. McDaniel led the team in free throw accuracy last season (85.9) and was second in minutes per game (28.5). Thomas made 43 percent of his field goals and 71 percent from the free throw line last season.

“Our goal is to be the best basketball team we can be at the end of the year,” Marlin said. Judging by the way this team has performed under Marlin in the past, this will be another very fruitful season.

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