Creating a lasting legacy

Collectively, they have played 395 games, scored 2,980 points, pulled down 1,547 rebounds and logged 8,777 minutes. They are a walk-on from San Antonio, a center from the island of Saint Vincent, a forward from Deer Park and a guard from Victoria. They are Shamir McDaniel, John Gardiner, Ryan Bright and Jeremy Thomas, the seniors of the Sam Houston State men’s basketball team.The group’s collegiate basketball careers are coming to a conclusion and only two games in front of their home crowd remain.Yet for one of these student -athletes, basketball wasn’t even on his agenda when he first set foot on campus.Captain ClutchLong before McDaniel became known for making the big shot, he was just a student. A standout at Converse Judson High School in San Antonio, the All-District and second team All-Region selection wasn’t on any collegiate basketball roster when he stepped onto campus four and a half years ago. If it wasn’t for a former teammate, the student population may not be so familiar with the name Shamir McDaniel.”One day I saw Ryan Griffin in class and he asked if I was going to try out for the basketball team,” McDaniel said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to go out there and see what I can do.’ I guess he got in touch with Coach (Neil) Hardin and he got in touch with my high school coach. Matter of fact, I really didn’t have to try out, I was just on the team. I was there the first day of practice.”This season, McDaniel has more than doubled his production from last year, upping his point total from 5.8 points per game last season, to 12.9 this year to lead the team, while also leading the team in minutes played at over 33 a contest.While his production has improved, nothing epitomizes his impact for the team more than his performance against Stephen F. Austin earlier this season. With Lumberjack guard Josh Alexander scoring at will against McDaniel, seeming to make everything he threw at the basket and McDaniel struggling on the offensive end, Alexander seemed to claim victory in their individual match-up. That was until the clock struck 0:20 in the second half. With the game on the line and the Bearkats trailing by one, a screen was set for Shamir, who shifted to his left and hit the three-pointer to give the Bearkats a 58-56 come-from-behind victory.”I was really struggling that game. My defense wasn’t there. My man (Alexander) was scoring on me so I figured had to do something to counteract that,” McDaniel said. “I was struggling all game. I wanted to help the team out so when coach called my number, I went out there and hit the shot.”He’s Bringing It BackWhen Ryan Bright arrived, he began his first campaign as the Bearkat’s sixth man. By the conclusion of the season, he was in the history books of Sam Houston State basketball, taking home the “Freshman of the Year” award from the Southland Conference, playing in all 30 of the team’s games, averaging 8.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.As a Bearkat, Bright has been “Mr. Everything”, coming off the bench his freshman year to lead the team in scoring his junior year at 14.8, to this season leading the team in rebounds while averaging an identical double-double with 11.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per game.Bright’s rebounding has seen the most improvement since his arrival, increasing his production from 4.5 his first year to 7.9 his second an 8.1 average last year to his current 11.5 rebound per game average, first in the conference and currently fourth in all of Division I basketball.”I don’t feel like I’m doing anything differently this year,” Bright said. “I think it’s a big attribute to our defense. They’re shooting a lower percentage, so there are more rebounds to be had. Sometimes it feels like the ball just goes my way.”Through his hard work and exceptional play, Bright has helped establish a legacy. One of only 20 to score 1,000 points, finishing in the top 10 for career points and top five in career rebounds while also being the only player in the history of the program to ever earn “Freshman of the Year” honors. The Spark PlugThough a bench player may not get the publicity or have the glamour that a starter might, most basketball coaches will admit that their influence on a game can be just as crucial as that of a starter.A starter sparingly (11 starts in his career, six this season), much of the success the team has achieved during Jeremy Thomas’s four years at SHSU has come through his ability to come off the bench and be an effective scorer. Currently averaging six points per game, Thomas provides the Bearkats with energy as soon as he checks into the game. The former Memorial High School standout understands his role, and how important his play will be for the team to get its third consecutive 20-win season and a chance at a conference championship. “It’s just a mindset of being ready,” Thomas said. “You’ve got the first five guys to go out there and set the tone, but everybody on our team is important and I look at it as coming out there and being ready for my team when my time is is called. Keep the flow of the game going, set a spark coming off the bench.””I just try to be a momentum guy. I just try and come out there and do something that lights the team, that sparks the team and keep what the starters did going.” Though he my want to forget the game against the University of Texas in Arlington earlier this season, (the regional telecast captured him losing a tooth chasing after a loose ball) his strong scoring performance in the second half as the Mavericks inched closer to get back into the game helped ensure a Bearkats victory. That performance is indicative of what Thomas has done throughout his career – no glitz, not much glamour, but doing whatever he can to help the team win.Johnny goes marching inUnlike his fellow seniors, John Gardiner isn’t a native Texan. In fact, if you want to uncover where his hometown of Mesopotamia, St. Vincent is located at, then dust off the globe in your closet and look southeast of Puerto Rico where you’ll find the small island in the Carribean. Gardiner is certainly a long way from home. Gardiner, a two-year starter, was preparing for his senior campaign last year before an ACL injury to his left knee during a pick-up game over the summer forced him to take a medical red-shirt and prolong his career at SHSU by one year. While the team won 21 games last year despite Gardiner recuperated from off-season knee surgery, his presence was missed in the paint, especially against last year’s “Southland Player of the Year” Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islander Chris Daniels. Daniels torched the Bearkats last year scoring 20 and 22 points in the team’s two contests. This year, Daniels failed to reach double digits, scoring only nine points, led in part by Gardiner’s interior defense in their earlier match-up. “I think I bring a certain amount of toughness inside,” Gardiner said. “Last year we were tough inside, but we didn’t really have that much size. Most of our guys inside were offensive so I think bring that defensive toughness inside.”Role modelsOne thing that stands out about the Bearkat seniors is that while often the term “student-athlete” is thrown around and used to describe collegiate athletes, this group really does exhibit what it means to be a “student-athlete,” spending as much time preparing for their game against SFA as they would for a chemistry exam.Recently, both McDaniel and Bright were named to ESPN The Magazine’s Academic All-District Six team, composed of basketball players from all Division I universities in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.Last season, Bright was honored as the Southland Conference Men’s Basketball “Student-Athlete of the Year”. Not to be outdone, Bright was flanked by fellow teammates McDaniel and Thomas as recipients of Academic All-Southland Conference accolades.”The basketball part is what a lot of people see. The part we all focus on, because it will be the part which will take us further in life, is academics,” Bright said. “We’re all fairly intelligent people and we understand our education is first and foremost here.”Humility amongst colleguesAfter the team’s victory over TAMU-CC, when asked about the team’s confidence level, head coach Bob Marlin referred to his four seniors as setting the tone for the rest of the squad.”It goes back to McDaniel and Bright and Jeremy Thomas and John Gardiner. Those four guys provide a great senior leadership,” Marlin said. “You hear a lot of talk about locker rooms in the NBA, etc. In college, there hasn’t been a better locker-room than that one across the hall and there hasn’t been in three years, as far as I’m concerned.”If you ask the players what makes it such a positive area, it’s simple, really: humor.”We’re just having fun,” McDaniel said. “Everybody knows we’re just joking around, we don’t take it personally. We might talk about John’s haircut, or Jeremy’s nose…” “Or Shamir’s shoulders,” added Gardiner, to a chorus of laughter. “We know in the locker room it’s time to have fun, but when we come out on the floor, it’s serious and we have to take care of our business.”Time of your lifeWith the group’s time at SHSU dwindling to completion and their final home game less than two weeks away, when they put on the orange and white one last time, though not eagerly looking ahead to life after basketball, some already have plans. Bright and Thomas both look to continue their schooling by earning a Master’s degree. With their presumed final rivalry game against SFA tonight and their careers almost at a close, it offers a chance to reflect a little before they no longer play before their home crowd, for a group who had given them so much for four years.”I think I’m going to take it as a reflection of everything I’ve done here,” Thomas said of Senior Day on Wednesday, March 5 against UTSA. “It’s going to be everything we’ve gone through, games won, games lost, leave as men, as better basketball players. It’s just going to be a great day, especially to have it at home and be able to tell the fans, ‘Thank you, just thank you for everything you’ve given us,’ allowing us to play basketball in front of them, something we love to do. This is a great place and a great home setting that I was able to spend four years at and loved every minute of it.”

Leave a Reply