In 1992, former NBA player Alvin Robertson had already won an Olympic gold medal in 1986, been selected to four all-star teams and was one of four players to record a quadruple-double.
He had played with the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Moses Malone, but there was still one great he had failed to play basketball with:
His son, Sam Houston State senior guard DeMarcus Gatlin.
Growing up, Gatlin was raised by just his mom, who had help from his grandmother and grandfather.
“Of course there was financial struggles, but she always made sure I had everything I needed,” Gatlin said. “It’s always been just her, my grandmother and grandfather. With them, I have an unbelievable support system.”
Robertson was absent from Gatlin’s life for the first 12 years of his life.
“I first met my dad when I was 12, unfortunately,” Gatlin said. “I didn’t know what to think when I saw him. I felt so many different emotions. I was happy, yet confused, but I was so excited to have him a part of my life that I didn’t care about anything that happened in the past.”
Gatlin first picked up a basketball and started playing when he was five-years-old but little did he know that decision would be a stepping stone and foundation of how his life would unfold.
“I initially started playing because it was just something competitive to do,” Gatlin said. “I had two older cousins, and I felt like basketball was something I could be competitive and physical in and try to beat them. I just fell in love with it over time.”
Gatlin played his first three years of high school basketball as a point guard at Alief Elsik until moving his senior year to Fort Bend Bush.
“I also felt like it was the right move for my basketball career because Bush was a ranked team in the state of Texas,” Gatlin said.
During Gatlin’s senior year, Fort Bend Bush won the 5A UIL state basketball championship by defeating Lewisville Marcus in the semifinal, a team that had current NBA player Marcus Smart before topping Garland Lakeview Centennial 65-58 in the championship.
“Winning the state championship in 2010, my senior year, is hands down my favorite basketball memory of all time,” Gatlin said.
In the state championship game, Gatlin only scored three points to go along with five rebounds, one steal and one block. Not many schools were looking to recruit him, so he took his talents and played at Navarro Junior College in Corsicana.
“Even though we won the state championship, I was still lowly recruited,” he said. “I was getting looked at by Houston Baptist University, who wasn’t in the Southland Conference at the time, Howard University and a bunch of junior colleges. So I just decided to attend Navarro.”
Gatlin attended and played basketball at Navarro for only one year until SHSU offered him to come play. At his time at Navarro, Gatlin appeared in 21 games. He scored 169 points, averaging eight per game, 51 rebounds, averaging two per game and 28 assists, only totaling one per game.
“I saw a lot of attributes in DeMarcus when we recruited him,” men’s basketball head coach Jason Hooten said. “He had all the things we look for in a student athlete: a guy that’s a good student, serious about the game, a versatile guy. I really felt like he would be a three-position guy, and he’s ended up playing four positions for us this year.”
As soon as Gatlin took his visit to SHSU, he knew that this was the school he wanted to attend, and this was the coaching staff under which he wanted to play.
“I just liked the idea of how close they were,” Gatlin said. “The moment I came here on my visit, I felt like they had already accepted me. The coaching staff was terrific. You can really relate to them. Also, distance from home played a huge factor. I knew my mom and my grandma would want to come to every game.”
It seemed as everything was going right for his senior season.
Then, he was injured. Twice.
He broke his kneecap in February 2013 before beginning the battle to recovery. He was ready to return for the 2013-14 season. Weeks before the season began, he hurt the same knee, forcing him to redshirt the season.
“Being a basketball player and watching your team play without you is very tough,” Gatlin said in an interview in May 2014.
Gatlin graduated last year with a major in kinesiology and he is currently working on his Masters in administration and instructional leadership with aspirations of becoming a head coach of a Division I basketball program in the future.
Since graduating, Gatlin has now made his way back to the court for his final season and currently leads the Bearkats in scoring, averaging 11.3 PPG as well as five RPG. He said basketball has taught him valuable lessons in life.
“The biggest thing I’m going to miss is the brotherhood I’ve developed with my teammates and coaches,” Gatlin said. “Throughout my years of playing the game, I’ve learned a lot. Basketball taught me about sportsmanship, patience and regardless of all the downs that you have, there will always be ups, and that goes for life in general.”
Those lessons have translated to his bond with his father. He and Gatlin have been able to establish a relationship through the game.
“I spend time with him,” Gatlin said. “We’ve developed a decent relationship as I’ve gotten older, especially with me playing basketball.”
And through basketball, Gatlin has grown to look up to Hooten.
“He taught me how to be a young man for the most part,” Gatlin said. “He really taught me how to appreciate others and not look at things from my own perspective all the time. He’s pretty much made me unselfish for the most part.”