Both men’s and women’s Sam Houston State University basketball have wildly over-performed this season. After being picked to finish sixth in the Southland Conference preseason poll, the men have posted a 15-1 record, won the regular season and claimed the No. 1 seed in the Southland Conference (SLC) tournament for the first time since 2010.
The women, predicted to finish dead last in the preseason, propelled their way to a tournament berth after an unpredictably successful season playing better than .500 basketball.
It has been a long time since basketball was this good at Sam Houston State University. For the first time since the 2015-16 season both the men’s and women’s basketball teams will be in the SLC Tournament in Katy March 13-17.
Major Success for the Men
This is the school’s fourth overall conference title and their first under head coach Jason Hooten, who took the helm in 2011. Over the last six years, Hooten has led the Bearkats to five 20-plus win seasons and has made the conference tournament in all but one of his nine years at SHSU.
“Well you know we’ve been really good and really successful here in my nine years as a head coach,” Hooten said. “I think when you take a job and you go into coaching, your aspirations are always to do that. Now I can just tell you how hard it is. We’ve had really good teams, we’ve won 20 games four out of the last five years, but we haven’t
[won the conference]
and it’s just hard to get it done.”
Senior guard Cameron Delaney and junior forward Kai Mitchell have led the success. Delaney is having a career year, which could potentially lead to some postseason honors.
“I got news for you, I think [Delaney] is going to be player of the year,” Hooten said. “He’s shooting over 50 percent from [three-point range] in conference, and you kind of think when is it going to end, but he just keeps doing it every night.”
Delaney is leading the team in scoring, averaging 13.5 PPG overall and 16 PPG in conference play. He is also second on the team in rebounds, averaging 5.6 RPG on the season and 6.6 RPG in conference play.
While Delaney has patrolled the perimeter for the Bearkats, Mitchell has led the team in the paint. A transfer from Hutchinson Community College, Mitchell has made a huge impact for the Bearkats in his first year on campus. Mitchell is the team’s second leading scorer—averaging 13.5 PPG in conference play—and the team’s leading rebounder averaging 7.3 RPG. This season Mitchell has been the foundation of the Bearkats on both ends of the floor.
Wild Year for the Women
On the women’s side, they are going to the tournament for the first time since the 2015-16 season when they arrived at the tournament as the No. 8 seed before making a shocking run to the championship game. This season the Bearkats will not be arriving to Katy as the bottom-feeders, but in all likelihood the team will be the No. 5 seed, the highest since the 2013 season when the ladies were second.
Powered by the up-tempo style play employed by first-year head coach Ravon Justice, the Bearkats have turned the program around in just one season. The team is number one nationally in free throws made per game (18.2) and number four in the country in turnovers forced per game (23.4).
The returning player that this stylistic change has helped the most is junior guard Jenniffer Oramas. Oramas has gone from averaging 10 PPG as a sophomore and 12.7 PPG as a junior, but the biggest improvements in Oramas’ game has come in other areas. She has 47 steals this season after getting just 23 all of last year. She has also greatly improved her assist numbers from 3.2 a season ago to 4.8.
A star for the Bearkats this season has been junior guard Jaylonn Walker. A transfer from McLennan Community College, she is the team’s leading scorer averaging 15.4 PPG, and coach Justice thinks Walker is deserving of some postseason recognition.
Both teams will be in action in Katy over Spring Break. The women will begin play on Mar. 15 at 11 a.m. when they take on the eight seed which is still to be determined. The men will begin play Mar. 16 at 5 p.m. and will take on either the fourth seed, the fifth seed or the eighth seed. They will need to win just two games in order to take home the tournament title.